BLOOMINGTON — Thomas Hilbish, 96, of Bloomington, passed away peacefully in his sleep Sunday (Feb. 22, 2015) in Bloomington.

He will be laid to rest at a graveside service Thursday at his boyhood home of Bristol, Ind. The Rev. Fred Slayton will officiate, and military rites will be conducted by both active duty U.S. Navy and Bristol American Legion. A celebration of life will be at 4 p.m. Sunday at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Ann Arbor, Mich. The Rev. Judy Shipman will officiate. Calvert & Metzler Memorial Home, Bloomington, is handling arrangements.

Thomas, affectionately known as “T” to family and friends, will be remembered for his love of life, his compassion for his fellow man, and serving as inspiration to his many students, as well as his humor and his genuine zest for life. He was widely respected as one of the world’s leading conductors of choral music.

Thomas was born Aug. 28, 1918, in Bristol, Ind., to Myron and Lilian Stoeffel Hilbish. He graduated from Bristol High School, where he was known as a musician and star basketball player. He attended the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla., on music and basketball scholarships. He was involved in numerous student activities, including serving as captain of the Miami Hurricanes basketball team, president of the student body and president of Florida Student Government. He graduated with a bachelor of music in 1941. He then served his country during World War II as a naval aviation pilot trainer, stationed in Pensacola, Fla.

Thomas earned his master of music from Princeton’s Westminster Choir College and then built the Princeton High School Choir into a nationally recognized ensemble, acclaimed for the complexity and professional level of its work. His work, and the choir’s notoriety and accomplishment, were subjects of an article in Time magazine. Under his leadership, the choir was the first high school choir to receive United States’ State Department tours of Europe.

He joined the faculty at University of Michigan in 1965. During his tenure, he served as chairman of the conducting department, director of University Choirs and founder of University of Michigan Chamber Choir. Additionally, he taught graduate courses in music education, choral and orchestral conducting, and 20th century musical literature.

Under his guidance, University of Michigan Chamber Choir became internationally recognized for its sophistication and excellence. His notable accomplishments with the choir include residency at Menotti's Festival of Two Worlds; a State Department Cultural Exchange tour of the Soviet Union; the Canary Islands International Opera Festival in Las Palmas, Spain; and State Department-sponsored tours of Eastern Europe. Under his direction, Michigan Chamber Choir produced several national recordings, the most notable, and Grammy-nominated (1980), Gian Carlo Menotti's "The Unicorn, the Gorgon, and the Manticore." This was the first Grammy-nominated recording of a college choir in the history of the Grammys.

Thomas retired from University of Michigan as professor emeritus of conducting in 1988. After his retirement, Hilbish held guest conductorships and visiting professorships at universities across the country from New York University, to Florida State, to University of California, Los Angeles, as well as Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. He conducted the Beijing Conservatory’s choirs and orchestra in China’s first-ever public performance of Bach’s B-minor Mass.

“T” will be dearly missed by his wife, Barbara Smith Hilbish, Bloomington, and his daughters, Catherine (Tom Green) McNeela, Whitsett, N.C., and Jennifer (Daniel) Schuetz, Normal.

He was preceded in death by his parents and sisters, Jane Hilbish and Ruth Hilbish Chadderdon.

Memorial contributions may be made to the University of Miami basketball team.

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