Talent Spotlight: Thomas Nielsen

One of the things that make the OHS such a unique school is that it fosters the next generation of talented youth in various disciplines, from extreme motocross to orchestra and everything in-between. While every student here is dedicated to their education and curious about their studies, what we do outside of class is also essential to the foundation of this school. Our passions motivate us to work harder, clocking in hours before and after class every day. They come to life in the classroom as we are able to relate our experiences to our studies. And despite the stress involved in being a student as well as pursuing our dreams outside of the OHS, we all know that in the end our passion is irreplaceable.

These talent portfolios highlight our fellow passionate students. My goal is to shine a spotlight upon the student’s hard work, dedication, and love for their pursuits while also inspiring others about the difficulties we all face in our pursuit for excellence.

Go forth boldly, my friends,

Aly Mulconnery

Here is our first talent spotlight.

Name: Thomas Nielsen

Age: 17575541_350389748351073_97949407_n

Grade at the OHS: 12th

Talent/s: Classical Piano/Music Composition

Describe your experience at the OHS:

Music has been a part of my life since age three, and a few years ago, I decided to get serious about my chosen instrument, piano. I’d been playing piano since I was five, but I needed to dedicate myself to it rather than letting it sit on the back burner, outweighed by other, less-important activities. I needed a place where I could have an enriching high school education while still having time to practice for two or so hours every day. At the time, I’d been home schooled since kindergarten by my dad, and we both recognized that that was most definitely not a good option for me going into high school. We realized that I needed a college level environment while still having a flexible schedule to pursue the things I was passionate about. With some research, my parents found out about the OHS and scheduled my attendance at one of the online open houses. I was very pleased with what I saw, and after asking some questions and getting some things straight, my family and I decided it would be worth giving a try. I took five classes in my freshman year, and am taking five again this year; in all honesty, this is the perfect number. I elected to take six in sophomore and junior years and with all my extracurricular activities, the workload was a bit tough. I especially enjoy the OHS English classes (I’m currently in University Literature) and the Core sequence courses. But what the OHS allows me goes far beyond an amazing education. I can practice piano at opportune times throughout the day, as well as furthering my interests in buying and selling antique coins by flying around the country attending conventions while still being able to do school. The OHS was truly the right choice.

How did you start with your talent? :

My musical journey began at age four, when my grandmother gave me a small toy piano. She watched approvingly as my stubby fingers plinked out Row, Row, Row, Your Boat on the brightly colored keys. My parents, ever the optimists, saw musical potential in my little performance, and rushed to enroll me in lessons at Johns Hopkins’ Peabody Preparatory. Their belief led to homeschooling to provide more time in the day for the exploration of music. Throughout elementary and middle school, I looked to piano as an emotional outlet, and as I got better, people began to take note of my ability. Eventually, I was able to meet fellow musicians through venues as diverse as chamber groups and rock bands, symphony concerts and coffee house open mic nights. In the process, I remained passionate about the piano but at the same time broadened my musical horizons.

Future Goals:

Professionally, I hope to get a dual degree in music and literature to pursue a career in intellectual property law dealing with music copyrights, an area that combines my love of analytical thinking with my love of music.

What have been some challenges along the way, or learning curves?:

Around eighth grade, I was thoroughly sick of the piano. I hated practicing scales every day, and I didn’t enjoy the repertoire I was learning. I didn’t want to work at it anymore, and things were rapidly going downhill. However, in January of 2008, I won a concerto competition performing Haydn’s 11th Piano Concerto, and got to perform the piece with orchestra in front of a crowd of 500 people. After the performance, I got flowers and a standing ovation. And at that moment, I realized that I couldn’t give it up. But in order to spice up my musical life, I begun taking composition lessons too. Since then, I have written numerous pieces in many genres for a wide variety of instruments. Two of my works were recently featured in the Stanford OHS’s publicity video created by Madnomad Films.

Where do you see yourself in the future concerning this talent?:

I see music as a big part of my life, regardless of what I choose as a career. Whether it be giving charity concerts at nursing homes, playing on the street or at coffee houses for tips, performing on stage for hundreds of people, or writing music for others to learn and play, I know that music and I are inexorably bound together.

Why do you love what you do? Why does it matter? :

Here is a brief story to explain why music is so important to me:

My friend Colin died in a car accident. Shaken by the passing of someone so young and confronted with my own mortality, I poured my emotions into composing a mournful piece for violin and piano that I called “Love and Loss.” I found solace in completing the work, but by sharing it with his family and friends, I was able to help them find solace as well. Music is built on common experiences like this and taps common feelings. The music I create forges an unspoken emotional bond with the audience, allowing me to connect with them in ways words cannot. When I play the piano or put pen to paper to compose a new piece, my loneliness is dispelled and I feel a part of the broader human family.


  • Victoria Gittings Prize for Outstanding Accomplishments in Piano, 2012, a $250 award for the top pianist at the Peabody Preparatory of the Johns Hopkins University.
  • Dean’s Recognition Award in Piano, 2012, awarded to winner of the Peabody Part Recital Competition.
  • Intermediate Certificate with Distinction in Piano, 2011, awarded for grades of 94 and above on a juried evaluation of advanced piano repertoire.
  • Dean’s Recognition Award in Piano, 2008, awarded to winner of the Peabody Junior Concerto Competition.
  • Performance Award in Piano, 2007 and 2012, awarded for outstanding recital performance at Peabody throughout the year.
  • ASCAP Young Composer’s Competition Finalist, 2012.
  • Achievement Award in Composition, 2007, awarded for outstanding accomplishment in musical composition at Peabody.


Youtube Links to Thomas’ music:

Thomas playing others’ compositions:





Thomas’ Compositions:



Categories: Talent Spotlight