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Apr 4, 2014

Senior Mark Thress Explores Music Through Helping Cancer Patients

For senior Mark Thress, a Vocal Performance major with a minor in Communication Sciences and Disorders, life seems to move from one serendipitous moment to another. In fifth grade, he tried out for The King and I at his local high school, and ended up landing one of the lead roles. Thress continued performing in musicals throughout high school and is now preparing for his senior recital, as well as starring as Ralph in the JMU Opera Theater’s production of H.M.S. Pinafore. Although Thress has wanted to pursue music for quite some time, he didn’t think his path would lead him to opera, “It’s funny how it found me.”

Soon after Thress arrived at JMU, he began taking lessons from Professor Kevin McMillan. During an audition, McMillan conveyed to Thress that he is interested in using music to help people “and figure out the science aspect of it” which is exactly what Thress is doing now as a part of the Music and Human Services course.

Working with oncology cancer patients at Rockingham Memorial Hospital, Thress helps to facilitate music sessions that are tailored to patients using iPads. Patients undergoing chemotheraphy are helped out by Thress programing iPads so that they “have all the music they like to listen to, the games that they like to play, and the videos that they like to watch.” Thress finds these sessions extremely rewarding, admitting that “seeing the affect that music has on these patients is unlike anything I’ve experienced before in my entire life.

And Thress has gotten to experience a lot in life. After a chance meeting on campus, he was offered a full scholarship to participate in the Cornish-American Song Institute in England. Once in England, Thress  had the opportunity to attend master classes and study with acclaimed conductors, pianists and vocalists in Oxford, Falmouth, and London for three weeks with 10-12 other top musicians who had been required to audition for the Institute; an experience Thress calls “incredible.”

Amidst his time spent at the hospital and abroad, Thress directs a choir of men and women who range in age from “their early teens to their 90s” at Otterbein United Methodist Church in downtown Harrisonburg. He has also been the music director for the all-male, JMU a cappella group, Exit 245, for the past two-and-a-half years. During his tenure with Exit 245, Thress has helped to produce, record and direct Go Green – EP (2012), XMAS – EP (2013), as well as Boyfriend Material (2012), an album that won the Contemporary A Cappella Recording Award (CARA) for Best Male Collegiate Album in 2013.

Recently, Thress participated in the third annual Sing Out! An A Cappella Celebration featuring all eight JMU a cappella groups and two groups from high school. The event was one of Thress’ “absolute favorite experiences in the Forbes Center,” in which he was provided the opportunity “to use microphones, and work with amazing sound and lighting equipment and people.”

As his final semester at JMU comes to an end, Thress is looking forward to H.M.S. Pinafore and competing in the regional National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) voice competition in North Carolina, a spot which he earned after placing first in the classical division in Virginia.




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