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Stanford Thompson Offers Tuition-Free Musical Training to Urban Youth

Since September 2011, 110 students at St. Francis de Sales School in Philadelphia have been in three-hour music classes every day after school. These children, ages six to thirteen, are part of the Play On, Philly! (POP) program, a new initiative directed by From the Top alum Stanford Thompson.

“Our primary goal is to build a foundation for a prosperous and sustainable society in Philadelphia,” says Stanford. “By making this investment in children to acquire high-level executive functioning skills, they will soon pay back society through a lifetime of productivity and responsible citizenship.”

Students select one string, woodwind, or brass instrument and get to work learning how to play. With general music classes, choir, ensembles, composition, performances in the POP Symphony Orchestra, and more, it’s no wonder these children will receive over 650 hours of instruction this year!

Stanford is passionate about teaching kids. After graduating from the Curtis Institute of Music with a degree in trumpet performance, he realized that he didn’t want to pursue a traditional career path.

“Halfway through Curtis, I figured out that I was passionate about education, working with kids, business, and, of course, music. By the time I left, I wanted to find a unique way to put all of those things together,” he said. “The Abreu Fellows Program at the New England Conservatory caught my attention.”

As a 2009-10 Abreu Fellow, Stanford traveled to Venezuela for two months, where he was inspired by “El Sistema,” Venezuela’s publicly funded classical music education program.

“It just makes sense,” states Stanford. “They have 300,000 kids who are involved in music for six hours a day. The orchestras create such a sense of pride for their communities, and not just in the capital, Caracas.”

The El Sistema music initiative inspired the free POP program, which is geared toward “children and adolescents living in difficult economic and social conditions.” For families facing financial hardships, this scholarship program is a much-needed resource in the community.

While at Curtis, Stanford designed a number of music education programs. In 2008, he founded the Reading (Pennsylvania) Summer Music Institute, where he continues to serves as Artistic Director, and in 2009 he founded the Philadelphia All-City Brass Symposium, which allows Philadelphia school students to have master classes with Curtis faculty and students. During the summer of 2009, he traveled to Kenya as part of the Meru Music Project to help implement one of the first instrumental music programs in the country, an experience he now calls his “crash course” on teaching.

A native of Decatur, Georgia, Stanford grew up in a musical family. He began studying trumpet at age eight.

“My parents are both music educators, so I was around music all the time. At first I wanted to play the trombone, but my father only had an extra trumpet in the closet of his band room. I started on trumpet with the promise that I would switch to trombone later, when I got bigger and my arms got longer – at least that’s the excuse he gave me!” he said. “I really got hooked the summer after my seventh grade year when I went to Interlochen Arts Camp. Having the chance to meet new people from all over the world and share the experience of playing with them in ensemble – that’s what gave me the glue.”

In addition to putting on a dozen concerts this season, including one at TEDxPhilly at the Temple Performing Arts Center on November 8, 2011, POP students will have the chance to perform with conductor/violinist Marin Alsop and Berlin Philharmonic Conductor Sir Simon Rattle.