Kabin Thomas was enjoying a career overseas, but love brought him back to the United States, and opportunity brought him to the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.
A current student in the Glenn Korff School of Music, Thomas is pursuing his doctorate in tuba performance, and is a benefactor of generous Glow Big Red donors who have helped make his doctoral studies possible. He is the recipient of a college award scholarship and graduate fellowship from the Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts.
“It means everything to me — the fact that I can go back to school, and not panic about bills,” Thomas said. “Without the scholarships, I wouldn’t be here right now.”
Thomas, a Michigan native, earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music from the University of Michigan and University of Wisconsin, respectively. He also spent time in the United States Marine Reserve and the U.S. Navy.
In 2012, Thomas was entertaining tourists as a game show host at Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. He relished the job, and enjoyed living in U.A.E.
“I loved living there and I loved what I was doing,” Thomas said. “I was never coming back.”
But the pull of an old flame reignited was too strong. Thomas reconnected with his former girlfriend, Mary, on Facebook. They eventually wed and made their home in Omaha.
Life there was good, as Thomas was with the love of his life, but working a number of unfulfilling jobs over the years left him wanting more. He and Mary put a traveling show together, “Peace, Love and Tubastanding.”
“We were getting some attention from the Unitarian churches, which I thought was super cool, but you know, it wasn’t enough to live on,” Thomas said. “And with the jobs, I was wondering what I was doing.”
He realized he wanted to get back to performing and learning full time. He saw that he could audition at the university, which accepted him into the graduate program and he and Mary relocated to Lincoln.
Now, Thomas is bringing his enthusiasm and love for music to his classes, rehearsals and performances. He noted that he’s older than most of his counterparts, and following a devastating fall down a flight of stairs in August 2021 that nearly derailed his plan, he uses a walker when arriving on campus as he continues recuperating.
“I must look like the oddest character,” he said. “Hopefully, they see me and are reminded, ‘Don’t give up.’ That’s the trick. That fall nearly took everything away, but I’m moving forward and I’m grateful. Put one foot in front of the other and just believe you can do it — that nothing is going to hold you back. Just keep going and keep believing.”
His enthusiasm can also be enjoyed by Nebraska Public Media listeners. He’s in front of the mic as host of the radio broadcast on Sundays, 4-8 p.m. He also works a shift on Wednesdays, when he plays along with the Piano Puzzler, between 8 and 8:30 p.m., during NPR’s show, “Performance Today.”
“I like to do webcasts during those on my Facebook page to help our Nebraska audiences try to guess the piece,” Thomas said. “It’s kind of fun, especially if you’re a musical geek, and we have a lot of people from Nebraska who call in and do a great job of guessing the name of the piece and compositional style.”
The part-time work helps pay the bills, he said, and also gives him experience in radio broadcasting, something he sees himself continuing in the future, but with a more musical slant.
“I’d love to spin CDs and talk about music on my own show some day,” he said.
For now, he hopes to continue to inspire others and share his talents.
“I want to continue to use music to be of service to people, to help them decompress because life can be such a pressure cooker,” he said. “Also, I feel as a Black man and a classical musician — there’s only one other Black person who has a doctorate in tuba performance — this is a great goal to achieve.”
Glow Big Red — 24 Hours of Giving is Feb. 16-17. It is the university’s annual giving event during which students, alumni, faculty, staff and the Husker community at large come together to support scholarships, colleges and programs, student groups and activities, inclusion, wellness and other important causes.