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Born on March 9, 1930 in the small town of Portage Michigan, just a few miles from Kalamazoo, to Agnes Nanninga and Peter Schippers, Thomas was the third of four children. The family was of Dutch descent. His brother Henry was born a few years earlier and his sister Gracetta several years later. The elder daughter named Cornelia Grace died at two from diphtheria. Their father owned a large appliance store.
 
Left to right: Grandfather Thomas Schippers, Peter Schippers with Henry and Tommy, Grandfather Henry Nanninga.
Courtesy of Private Collector

Tommy had his first piano lessons at the age of four. The Schippers household did not have a piano but their grandmother did and while accompanying his brother to lessons at their maternal grandmother’s house across the street he began to pick up the essentials in his own words: “Even before I could pronounce two words together correctly, I was already ‘pounding’ on the black and white of those magical keyboards”. He began taking piano lessons with Ilah Decker and by the time he was six, Tommy was already accomplished enough to give a small recital. Occasionally he played duets with his brother until Henry tired of piano lessons and quit. When he reached the age of eight, he changed teachers and began studying with the 90-year-old Victoria McLaughlin who was convinced that he would some day become famous. He then began taking organ lessons with Henry Overley who was the organist and music director of St. Luke’s Church in Kalamazoo. At age nine he was playing the organ using special shoes that had three to four inch soles in order for him to reach the pedals. Although he eventually became an excellent conductor, this instrument always held a special place for him.
 
Courtesy of Private Collector
 
Tom graduated from Kalamazoo Central High School at the incredibly young age of fourteen, having skipped three grades. He won a scholarship to Curtis Institute where he took organ and piano and completed his studies there at 16 and also attended courses at Julliard School of Music finishing at 17. He then went on to Yale University to study composition with Paul Hindemith.
 

At Yale University in February 1948


Courtesy of Private Collector


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