​Dr. Thomas J. Dempster

Thomas Dempster is an internationally-performed, published, recorded, and award-winning composer, as well as a theorist and bassoonist, and is Assistant Professor of Music Theory and Composition at Claflin University.


At Claflin, Dr. Dempster teaches the core musical foundations courses to help students gain mastery and knowledge of analysis, craft, and listening, skills to enrich and guide their careers as performers, teachers, and makers of music.

Dempster is a composer writing predominantly chamber, electroacoustic, and multimedia works. With nearly 100 completed works, his output ranges from solo miniatures to extended works for orchestra with soloists. His music bears accessible yet decidedly individualistic traits, from tonal references to extended techniques, from use of classical forms to experimental soundscapes and video works. While at home with all instruments and ensembles, Dempster has composed extensively for flute, bassoon, saxophone, and digital media, with an increasing interest in art song, video works, and Jazz. His works have been described as having “an impressive sense of physicality” (Computer Music Journal) to being “restless, aggressive, playful, eerie…a multifaceted, whimsical evocation” (J. Harvey, Indianapolis Star).

This protean and multifaceted background has resulted in his music being widely performed throughout the Western Hemisphere and across Europe including GEMDays Festival (UK), Festivale Di_Stanze (Italy), Saxofoneando (Bolivia), the Irish Sound Science and Technology Association, the Toronto International Electroacoustic Symposium, the San Francisco New Music Festival, Electronic Music Midwest, Electroacoustic Barn Dance, New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival, International Computer Music Association Conference, the International Double Reed Society, SEAMUS, Society of Composers Inc., College Music Society, the National Flute Association, the North American Saxophone Alliance, NACUSA, and many others.

Dempster is a recipient of awards, honors, and grants from BMI, ASCAP, the South Carolina Arts Commission, the South Carolina Music Teachers Association, Ithaca College, Black House Collective, Vox Novus, and the Columbia (SC) Museum of Art. He has been a resident with the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center, the Osage Arts Community / Mid-Missouri Composers Symposium, and the Cortona Sessions for New Music. He has been commissioned by the Ohio State University New Music Ensemble, the Lamar University Wind Ensemble, the Greenbrook Ensemble, the Blue Mountain Ensemble, the Governor's School of North Carolina, and more. Many of his works are available from Potenza Music Publishing, MusicSpoke Publishing, Murphy Music Press, Navona Records, and Quiet Design Records. He is an affiliate composer of Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) As a theorist, Dempster is interested in the compositions of Hans Werner Henze, Alberto Ginastera, Toru Takemitsu, and Anthony Davis. Dempster is further interested in the pedagogy of music theory and music composition, aesthetic theory and contemporary classical music, folklore and temporal elements in classical music, and intersectionality in popular music.

He studied at the University of Texas (MM, DMA) with Kevin Puts, Dan Welcher, Russell Pinkston, Donald Grantham, Kevin Beavers, and Bruce Pennycook, and at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (BM) with Eddie Bass, Craig Walsh, and Frank McCarty. He was mentored in theory and pedagogy by Byron Almen, Stefan Kostka, Kent Williams, and Ed Pearsall. Dempster studied bassoon with Michael Burns, and has had masterclasses and lessons with Kristin Wolfe-Jensen, Bill Davis, William Winstead, and Peter Simpson. Dempster has performed with many orchestras throughout the Southeast.


  • Doctor of Musical Arts, Music Composition (2010) – University of Texas at Austin
  • Master of Music, Music Composition (2004) – University of Texas at Austin
  • Bachelor of Music, Performance/Composition (2002) – University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Research Interests

  • Pedagogies of music composition
  • Pedagogies of music theory
  • Mysticism, time, folklore, and cultural artifacts in contemporary art music
  • Critical theory and intersectionality in music
  • Music criticism and aesthetic theory as teleology
  • Compositions and techniques of Henze, Takemitsu, Davis, and Ginastera
  • Systems design and theory in musical academia


Dempster began his teaching (and composing) career in high school when he taught bassoon and musicianship to middle and elementary school students. After a hiatus for college (during which he saw many more role models and learend how to teach better), Dempster was a Teaching Assistant with the Governor’s School of North Carolina, teaching lessons, theory, and musicology, from 2001-2006. Dempster was a graduate instructor of theory, skills, and electronic music at the University of Texas at Austin, and later an instructor at UNC-Greensboro, teaching first-year seminars in music, music appreciation, composition, theory, and skills. From 2009-2012 he again taught at the Governor’s School of North Carolina as a full instructor, teaching philosophy, musicology, and theory, and was most recently in a professorship at South Carolina State University, teaching a wide and varied selection of courses. He brings to Claflin more than a decade of higher-ed teaching experience and a broad, rich palette of teaching styles and philosophies to engage students.

Thomas Dempter 2
​Dr. Thomas J. Dempster
Assistant Professor of Music Theory and Composition
  • School of Humanities & Social Sciences
Music Building, 202