St. Vincent band, professor to perform at Heinz Field
For the second year in a row, St. Vincent College assistant professor of music Thomas Octave will sing the national anthem at the Pittsburgh Steelers pre-season game.
Octave will perform prior to the game with the Atlanta Falcons at 4 p.m. Aug. 20 at Heinz Field, recognizing and celebrating the team’s 52nd annual summer training camp this year.
“I’ve conducted the anthem for students during commencement, but last year was the first time (performing),” says Octave, 35, of Lower Burrell.
He served as cantor at a July mass for the late Steelers’ chairman, Dan Rooney, at the St. Vincent Archabbey basilica as part of the opening of training camp.
“It was very joyful and celebratory of his life,” Octave says.
Two years ago, St. Vincent director of public relations Don Orlando mentioned Octave to a Steelers representative. It was the 50th anniversary of the college hosting the team for training camp, and the school was planning special ways to celebrate that milestone.
“I was thinking that Tom is a very, very talented singer, as good as anyone I’ve ever heard sing the national anthem,” Orlando says. “I thought, wouldn’t it be nice if Tom could sing (before a game). … They said, ‘Send us a tape.’ ”
“Lo and behold, they decided to have us. It was a real treat. … I enjoyed every minute of it,” Octave says.
The St. Vincent College marching band’s drumline also performed with the Steelers official drumline.
The Steelers found another opening for Octave this season. This year, the entire “March of the Bearcats” Marching Band will perform on field at 3:45 p.m. during pre-game activities. They also will perform outside of the stadium and be part of a parade of game day entertainers who perform as fans enter.
“For our students to perform at Heinz Field, and for the Steelers, that’s fabulous,” Orlando says. “Growing up as a lifelong Western Pennsylvanian, and working here, I know the great things the Steelers have done for our campus and community.”
Growing up in Monessen, Octave sang for WPIAL performances when the Greyhounds basketball team won. And he sang with his high school chorus.
“I was always lucky enough to do a solo. It was marvelous,” Octave says.
He calls Heinz Field a “beautiful space” in which to perform. And he’s not nervous about singing a capella.
“They announce you and you go,” he says, smiling.
Octave, who has earned degrees from Carnegie Mellon University and Duquesne University, has taught at St. Vincent for nine years. His responsibilities include conducting the SVC Singers and teaching courses in voice, music appreciation and opera. He also serves as musical consultant to the archabbot.
“I’m really blessed to do what I’m able to do. These students grow to find their own voices and grow into wonderful musicians. It’s such a marvelous thing,” he says.
He has conducted numerous operas and musicals. His recent collaboration with the Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s theater department’s production of “A Year With Frog and Toad” earned a Kennedy Center nomination.
He has collaborated with jazz legend Joe Negri in performances of “Mass of Hope,” the River City Brass, Highmark’s “The Caring Place” and renowned choreographer Maria Caruso.
Octave is music director for Bodiography Contemporary Ballet; Maestri, the Diocesan Choir of Greensburg; Saint Maria Goretti Parish in Bloomfield; and the Westmoreland Choral Society.
He enjoys the music he performs and teaches so much, it’s often what he listens to in his free time or while driving. “I really don’t know the Top 20. I like to listen to what I’m working on, whatever is coming up,” he says.
Octave singles out a performance of Aaron Copeland’s “Simple Gifts” by Marilyn Horne at Bill Clinton’s 1993 presidential inauguration as particularly thrilling.
“I was very, very young. And I thought, ‘Wow, that’s so very cool. I want to do something like someday,’” he says.
And about that surname, as akin to a musician as a chef named Cook or an artist named Painter?
Originally Octavi, the name was “Americanized,” he explains, when his father, who was born in Italy, settled in Jeannette.
“I’m the only one in the family who went into music,” he says, laughing.