Thompson Plays a Tune of Hope
Interview with Whitney Howe
for the International Musician
published September 2007
For most of the nation, the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath was a must-watch television event, albeit a detailed, sometimes shocking, and often poignant one. But when the devastating winds and rain struck New Orleans in August 2005, violinist Samuel Thompson of Local 502 (Charleston, SC) didn’t watch it on television or listen to it on the radio.
He didn’t have to. He was there.
As fate would have it, the talented young violinist had traveled to New Orleans to prepare for the 2005 Rodolfo Lipizer International Violin Competition, which he planned to attend in Gorizia, Italy, when Katrina wreaked havoc on New Orleans’ inhabitants. Thompson, along with many of the city’s residents, found himself forced to seek shelter in the Louisiana Superdome.
Although he missed the competition, it was during that stay at the Superdome that Thompson gave one of his most memorable performances. Amongst all the confusion, despair, and panic, he picked up his beloved violin and played Bach’s Sonata No. 1 in G Minor. Unbeknownst to him at the time, this simple act of musical mercy was photographed.
Eventually, Thompson and his violin garnered the attention of major publications across the globe.
A native of Charleston, South Carolina, Thompson started playing the violin at the age of nine. He was given the opportunity to play a musical instrument of his choice in school and felt an immediate, strong connection to the violin. “It chose me,” says Thompson, who eventually went on to receive a Master of Music degree from Rice University.
Hurricane Katrina relief benefits are not nearly as ubiquitous as they once were, but Thompson makes it a priority of his to remind others that help is still needed. “I think it’s a very good idea to keep Katrina fresh in their minds and to remain aware of the fact that people and organizations are still recovering,” Thompson says. “It’s not over once people are fed, clothed, and housed.”
In addition to spreading the word about the help that is still needed, Thompson does what he can as a musician to keep the aid coming. One such charitable undertaking occurred February 10, when he played at a Greater New Orleans Youth Orchestra Benefit Concert with the Cortlandt Chamber Orchestra in Croton-on-Hudson, New York.
Thompson had graciously accepted the invitation by conductor Rich Simons to be part of a chamber ensemble and perform in concert. After some reflection, he introduced the idea of making the concert a benefit for music foundations that were devastated by the storm.
Part of the reason Thompson felt it was important to make the event a charity performance was that he wanted to find an effective way to help the Greater New Orleans Youth Orchestra. The devastation of Katrina had caused the orchestra to end its season in deficit for the first time in 12 years. If they did not come up with a substantial amount of money—quickly—they would have no other choice but to stop performing all together.
“It was disheartening to hear about the deficit,” says Thompson. “In fact, I was shocked at the current situation of small orchestras in New Orleans. The effects of Hurricane Katrina continue to unfold and the reality is that the Greater New Orleans Youth Orchestra had fallen into a financial quagmire.” Although the benefit concert was of great help to the youth orchestra, keeping it on its feet for now, it is clear that it will continue to need monetary support in the future, observes Thompson.
Thompson harvested much recognition for his impromptu violin playing at the Louisiana Superdome, but he insists that it does not distract him from his main goal of helping others. ” This is bigger than me,” he says. “And it’s humbling to be a part of the relief effort in any way.”
Even still, Thompson cannot deny that his newfound recognition has led to new opportunities as a musician, such as an appearance at the International Festival of Arts and Ideas in New Haven, Connecticut. “The program consisted of unaccompanied works by Bach, Ysaÿe, and Thomas Benjamin, played with no traditional breaks,” Thompson says. “Not only was it a test for me in terms of my playing, but also in terms of endurance and doing something outside of the traditional recital format.”
Thompson is currently busy traveling the nation, performing in various concerts and recitals. Despite his busy schedule, however, he vows to continue to help with the Katrina relief effort whenever he can, and gives due reverence to those who share his desire to actively help the victims.
“People are interested in New Orleans’ recovery,” Thompson observes. “They are giving money, hosting benefits, and supporting nonprofit organizations that serve as outlets for New Orleans culture and that create opportunities for New Orleans artists in other cities.”
Thompson is quickly becoming a veteran on the benefit circuit, having already put three charity concerts under his belt. It’s clear that this young violinist sees charitable service as an essential part of his mission as a professional musician.
“Whatever a person does in his or her lifetime, the most important thing is the product,” Thompson notes. “I hope that my teachers, in seeing me, can see the finished product and be proud.”
As mentioned before, I was recently profiled in the International Musician. This interview took place shortly after a benefit concert that I played - and actually organized - from which the proceeds went to the Greater New Orleans Youth Orhestra.
The seeds of this concert were planted in January 2006 when, upon seeing a calendar from our alma mater, a colleague from the University of South Carolina School of Music called me and asked if I would like to play a concerto with his orchestra. Four months later (and one month before my performance at the New Haven International Festival of Arts and Ideas) I received both a call and a letter from Tracey Sherry, then the Executive Director of the Greater New Orleans Youth Orchestra, in which she very candidly chronicled the organization's financial situation at the close of the 2005-2006 season (which was, incidentally, the end of the first season following Hurricane Katrina).
After forwarding the letter to Darcy Lewis - and later posting it in my blog - I called Rich and asked if our concert could be a benefit...
Having worked as the marketing associate for an arts organization many years ago, I did send out press releases with information on this concert; however, I never expected THIS, and all I can say is that I'm very happy that people are still paying attention to what needs to happen in New Orleans.
Thank you all again, not only for the supportive words you have shared with me over the past two years, but for your continued assistance with the long-term recovery of our Gulf Coast's arts organizations.
Well, I'm now finding myself curious...there seems to have been very little (if any) coverage about the Gulf Coast arts community in the past two weeks, and I'm wondering if anyone has read anything that the would be willing to post or share... ...as well as wondering if the absence is an opportunity to start writing more articles...
Well, I'm now finding myself curious...there seems to have been very little (if any) coverage about the Gulf Coast arts community in the past two weeks, and I'm wondering if anyone has read anything that the would be willing to post or share...
...as well as wondering if the absence is an opportunity to start writing more articles...
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