Dr. Thomas Birkner retired in 2016 as Director of Instrumental Music at Belleville West High School, leading the symphonic band, marching band, orchestra, and three jazz ensembles; his students and ensembles receiving recognition throughout the region, including international performances in Ontario, Canada, and Germany. In addition, he served as an adjunct faculty member of Southwestern Illinois College, teaching improvisation. Prior teaching assignments include the University of Illinois, Parkland College, and Terre Haute South High School in Indiana.
Named a Golden Apple Award Winner for Excellence in Teaching at the secondary level, he has served on the faculty of the summer jazz camp at Eastern Illinois University for over 35 years. Recognized as an outstanding soloist by the International Trumpet Guild and the National Association of Teachers of Singing, performances include the Chicago Jazz Festival, Orchestra Hall in Chicago, and major jazz festivals in Italy, Sweden, and Denmark.
Recorded performances can be found on Einstein records, Opus One, and the Seabreeze record labels. Among artist with whom he has appeared are Joe Williams, Clark Terry, Nancy Wilson, and Louis Belson. Dr. Birkner remains active as a clinician and adjudicator and is a past member of the I LMEA State Executive Board. He resides in Belleville with his wife Catherine and children Jon, Ryan, and Erin.