Stanford Thompson

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.

Play On Philly! On Film And Beyond...

Oct 13, 2014
Cinematographer Claudia Raschke

A new film debuting at the 2014 Philadelphia Film Festival documents the activities of two after-school intensive music programs for children in underserved communities - one in New York, the other in Philadelphia. WRTI’s Jim Cotter reports.

Play On, Philly is an innovative music program modeled after Venezuela’s network of youth orchestras known as "El Sistema." Curtis Institute of Music graduate Stanford Thompson first brought the program to 4th through 8th graders attending St. Francis de Sales School in West Philadelphia in 2010. Two years later, it expanded to include students at Freire Charter Middle School in Center City.

David DeBalko

Music lives in West Philadelphia, home of Play on Philly, a program modeled after Venezuela’s El Sistema, in which under-served children are taught to play classical music.  As WRTI’s Susan Lewis reports, the program is as much about social change as it is about music. 

Lewis:  Pictures at an Exhibition was the music behind a life-changing moment for trumpet player Stanford Thompson, who was a student at Curtis rehearsing the Mussorgsky  work with visiting conductor Simon Rattle:

Thompson:  He finally stopped the orchestra and he said, you guys sound like robots. Everything’s perfect, mechanical, in tune. He said, there’s a group of students in Venezuela who could outplay you all any day.

Lewis: After graduating from Curtis, Thompson went to Venezuela to study El Sistema.  He returned to  Philadelphia, and founded Play on Philly, which he describes as a social program:

Thompson: I think putting kids in an orchestra, having them play with one another, is one of the best ways for them to co-exist in the same space. For them all to have a voice, but not be a jumble of noise. I also think it can build a lot of pride within each child, within their families, and within the community. That’s the main goal of what we do.

Lewis: Music, says Thompson, is an ideal vehicle to teach the kind of responsibility that can change lives:

Thompson: It’s the only art form that I know that you can put 100 – 200 – 300 people in a room with a common goal. Even on a spiritual level, there are things you can’t really express in words, and I think that emotion can come out of these instruments.  That’s why I think music is unique.

Lewis: Play on Philly currently has 27 teaching artists, working with 225 students at 2 schools.

Let us know Where Music Lives in your community! Add your ideas in the comments section here and check out our other Where Music Lives posts.

Simon Rattle, the British-born conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, is one of the best-known classical musicians alive. His influence shows up in all sorts of places: at the Metropolitan Opera, where musicians still speak of his presence there in reverent tones, and in West Philadelphia where his advocacy of Venezuela’s El Sistema helped inspire trumpeter Stanford Thompson to create Play On Philly, a music education program that touches hundreds of lives.