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Tommy Dainko Lamont Student Profile

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Ian Wisekal

by Ian Wisekal

Profile  •

Senior percussionist Tommy Dainko is the unassuming type. Talking with him for any length of time, one would never know that last spring he received Lamont’s highest student honor, the Presser Undergraduate Scholar Award, which recognizes outstanding musical and academic merit and comes with a $4000 prize.

Dainko, a Colorado native, started piano lessons at age seven. When band began in fifth grade, he gravitated towards percussion because of its keyboard instruments, but “it didn’t feel serious,” Dainko said, until his sophomore year of high school. When he began percussion lessons his senior year, it just so happened that his teacher, Mike van Wirt (now a member of the Colorado Symphony) was a Lamont alumnus.

“No other kids were serious about music in my school,” said Dainko, so he asked his band director and private teacher about college programs. When Dainko applied to Lamont, percussion faculty John Kinzie wrote to him personally and offered what ended up being the first of several complimentary lessons. After his successful audition, that level of individual attention helped convince the young percussionist to enroll.

Among Dainko’s standout experiences at Lamont was rehearsing and performing with the Modern Music Ensemble last year, a year when many schools only offered virtual learning. “I had friends who were not sitting in an ensemble for months,” he said. By contrast, trombone professor Richard Harris encouraged Dainko’s group to do more and go further; they commissioned a piece from student composer Alex Niederberger and prepared enough repertoire to give a full-length recital. “It was so great to get to do all that music with close friends.”

Another highlight was the open-door policy maintained by many faculty, especially musicology professors Gillian Gower, Petra Frazier, and professor emerita Antonia Banducci. “They were always so helpful if I ever reached out,” Dainko told me, “and were always willing to set time aside for me to chat one on one.” Due in part to this mentorship, musicology now figures strongly in his graduate school plans.

In addition to his passion for chamber music, Dainko intends to delve into the field of ethnomusicology, looking specifically at the interaction between folk music traditions and art music, among other genres. (One current project involves an analysis of folk music employed as a narrative device in video games.) The Presser award funds have helped to serve both of those aims, paying for new mallets, a new laptop, and sheet music.

At a time of year when most music students have yet to begin their college auditions, Dainko has already been accepted to the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, England. The schools attracted him for two principal reasons: their percussion and musicology programs are renowned, and Dainko’s mother is English, giving him dual citizenship with the UK.

As for his career goals, Dainko is sanguine. “It would be really cool,” he said, to eventually become part of the gaming world. Or to go into musicology. Or to play percussion professionally. Or a combination of those things. One thing is certain: no matter what Dainko decides to dedicate himself to, Lamont’s doors will always be open to him.