About 20 minutes before the Greater Miami Symphonic Band was set to take the stage, the group’s oboe and English horn player tumbled down a flight of stairs in the lobby of Maurice Gusman Concert Hall at the University of Miami, hitting her head on the tile floor.
The musician, Janice Thomson, 62, was rushed in an ambulance to Jackson South Medical Center Sunday night where she was put on life support and suffered from internal bleeding. Thom Proctor, the president of GMSB, confirmed Monday afternoon in a message sent to all of the members of the band that Thomson had passed away around noon.
Grace Harrington, a French horn player in the band and a student at UM, was in the lobby of Gusman Hall getting a ticket for her mother when the incident occurred.
Right as she was standing there, Harrington heard what she described as a “bone-crunching” sound. She turned around, hearing screams from others in the lobby and saw Thomson on the floor.
“Everyone was running to get her,” said Harrington, a junior majoring in political science and religious studies. “They were screaming for a doctor.” Amid the chaos, Harrington quickly rushed to call the University of Miami Police Department.
GMSB is a community band made up of performers of all ages, backgrounds and professions. Because of this, after Thomson fell, there were three doctors in the band who rushed to her aid.
The concert, which was scheduled for 8 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 10, premiered a piece commissioned by American composer Robert Sheldon entitled “Magic City Montage.” Thomson’s parents, former Coral Gables Mayor Dorothy Thomson and attorney Jack Thomson, had come to see her perform in this special show, the first of the fall season for the band. After the tragic incident, the concert was delayed but the show eventually went on that evening.
Harrington described performing that night as “surreal.”
“It was the strangest thing because it was probably our best concert,” she said. “I think all of us were snapped. And [the incident] was the only thing we could think about so we all just focused on the music so intensely for the next two hours.”
The guest conductor that night Gary Green said that after hearing Thomson playing the oboe beautifully during the stage rehearsal on Sunday, he had planned to have her stand up at the end of the show to take a special bow. Green, who retired from his position as the director of bands and a professor at the Frost School of Music in 2015, has known Thomson for several years.
“My memory of Janice will always be of her warmth and her giving personality and the beauty of her music,” he said.
Following the concert, the band met on Tuesday, Nov. 12, at 8 p.m. for its weekly rehearsal at the Henry Fillmore Hall on UM’s campus. After Proctor announced updates on Thomson’s passing, guest conductor Steven Moore led the band in the song “O Magnum Mysterium,” which GMSB will play in honor of Thomson at a concert dedicated to her on Dec. 10 at Gusman Hall. GMSB will perform that evening with an empty seat in the oboe section adorned with a single rose.
Before the band began to rehearse, Moore addressed the members saying, “Music is healing.”
Emotion filled the room as the band rehearsed the pleading, somber notes of the song. “You could feel it palpably through the group,” said Susie Blank-Wolfe, a string bass performer with GMSB. She described the moment as a cathartic goodbye. Proctor recalled seeing one of the clarinet performers wiping away tears as she played.
While Blank-Wolfe had only spent time with Thomson during rehearsals and performances, she said she felt a deep bond with her.
“It’s a very surprisingly intimate, emotional connection that you make with people that you’re making music with. We make music sometimes with people who don’t share a common language but we share music,” Blank-Wolfe said. “There’s a bond that all of us feel whether we socialize or we just see each other once a week to rehearse. And it’s like we lost a family member in a different kind of way.”
Blank-Wolfe’s husband Alan Wolfe, a trumpet player who has been with GMSB for 40 years and an alumnus of the UM music school’s class of 1968, said he felt “overwhelmed with sadness.”
In response to the accident, the university released a statement saying, “The University of Miami is heartbroken by the tragic incident that occurred at Gusman Hall Sunday evening. While this is an ongoing investigation and we are still trying to determine exactly what happened, we offer our deepest condolences to the family.”
Visitation is 5 p.m. Sunday and a memorial service will follow at 6 p.m. at Granada Presbyterian Church in Coral Gables.
This is a developing story. The page will be updated as more information becomes available.