Thomas Albert attended the public schools of Lebanon, Pennsylvania and Wilson, North Carolina. In 1970, he received the degree A.B. (Magna Cum Laude) from Atlantic Christian College (now Barton College), where he studied composition with William Duckworth. He received the M.Mus. (1972) and D.M.A. (1974) in composition from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, studying with Paul Martin Zonn and Ben Johnston.
Since 1974, he has been a member of the faculty of Shenandoah Conservatory at Shenandoah University. From 1989 - 2004 he was Associate Dean of the Conservatory; from 2004 - 2008 he was Chair of the Theatre Division. He is currently Professor of Music (composition and musical theatre) and holds the Harold Herman Chair in Musical Theatre. He has served as music director and conductor for more than 100 musicals and revues.
Albert’s music is stylistically postmodern, exhibiting influences of Ives, Copland, Crumb, minimalism and 20th-century American popular music.
Since the mid-1990s his works have been mostly composed for the combination of instruments known as the "Pierrot sextet" (after Arnold Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire: flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano, with percussion instead of Schoenberg's singer), and have explored the application of the Fibonacci series (a numerical series in which each number is the sum of the previous two numbers: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233…) to musical structures.
Early works include A Maze (With Grace) (1975, after "Amazing Grace") and Devil’s Rain (1977) both of which were recorded by the ensemble Relâche for Mode Records. According to critic and composer Kyle Gann writing for The Village Voice, "A Maze (with Grace) and Devil's Rain mark the edge where minimalism seeped into its postgenre, but they transcend either style ...".
In 1976 he composed a one-act opera, Lizbeth, based on the legend of Lizzie Borden. The work, with libretto by Lindé Hayen Herman, was commissioned by a grant from the National Endowment from the Arts, and was a finalist in the 1988 National Opera Association's chamber opera competition.
His best-known composition is Thirteen Ways, commissioned by eighth blackbird. The piece was inspired by Wallace Stevens’ poem, "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird", from which the ensemble derived its name, it is the title work of eighth blackbird’s first commercial recording, Thirteen Ways (Cedille Records).
eighth blackbird also commissioned his incidental music for the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music's 1998 production of Angels in America: The Millennium Approaches.
He has composed two works inspired by art exhibits at the Smithsonian Institution for the 21st Century Consort. The Devil's Handyman (2002) was prompted by works of American sculptor H. C. Westermann, and the art of Saul Steinberg inspired Illuminations (2007).
Night Music was commissioned by the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble for its 30th anniversary season in 2006, and was recorded by the ensemble for Lime Green Productions, released in the summer of 2007.