When Stanford Thompson left Philadelphia with a degree from the Curtis Institute of Music, the talented trumpeter had a myriad of career options that could have landed him in any city in the world. Lucky for us, after a few detours, he's back here in the City of Brotherly Love.
Inspired by the El Sistema program in Venezuela, Thompson started Play On, Philly! in 2011. It's a non-profit, after-school music education program and orchestra currently operating in two city schools. He's raised over $4 million in funding to fuel the organization, impacting the lives of hundreds of children.
His story began in Atlanta, where Thompson was always focused on music. His parents were both music educators, and expected that Stanford and his seven siblings would all play at least one instrument as long as they lived in the family home.
Thompson’s father served as his first music teacher, but his real role models were his older brothers. Awed by their musical prowess, Stanford reveled in the chance to spend quality time with them during youth orchestra rehearsals and in nightly jam sessions at home.
He first became aware of the Curtis Institute of Music after one of his brothers was accepted. After earning his own spot at the prestigious institution, he says the rigorous environment helped him discover his core identity.
One of his most surprising revelations was that a career as a musician didn’t seem entirely fulfilling. While at Curtis, he became acutely aware of the disconnect between his own top-notch education and the paucity of musical instruction available in the rest of the city. A fan of diverse styles of music, he felt that if the opportunity to engage with classical music were presented to more people, a more diverse range of students would be interested in it.
This became the impetus for creating Play on, Philly! Thomson believes that music offers a way out of poverty - not as a career path, but for the many ancillary skills it teaches. He says he knows that classical music has already changed the lives of his students, their parents and the communities they live in.