Featured Member: Samuel Thompson
A native of Charleston, South Carolina, Fractured Atlas member Samuel Thompson began playing violin at a young age and made his debut at the age of eighteen with the Carolina Amadeus Players Chamber Orchestra. He studied at both the University of South Carolina and Oklahoma State University, earning the Master of Music degree from the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University where he studied with Kenneth Goldsmith and Raphael Fliegel. Currently living in New York, Samuel recently took time out from his busy schedule of performing, editing recordings and writing about music and the arts to answer a few of my questions...
Samuel, you started playing the violin at age nine. When did you know that playing music was what you wanted to do as your career?
I actually knew before I started. The "light came on" when I saw a PBS broadcast of an orchestra performing a Mahler symphony. At one moment, the camera panned over the violin section and I called my parents into the room, saying "I want to do this!" As I started my studies in the Charleston County School District's orchestra program, I am a big advocate for public school music programs.
How do you define success?
If I have brought the best of myself to a situation, infused my work with integrity, and feel that the audience is with me during the experience of performing -- that we are all "riding the wave" -- then I have succeeded.
What has been your greatest success to date?
In the last movement of Eugène Ysaÿe’s Second Sonata, there is a period of silence that is preceded by a very loud note played on the G-string. The effect is stunning: the listener is compelled to lean in expectantly for what comes afterwards. During my debut recitals at the New Haven International Festival of Arts and Ideas in 2006 -- recitals that consisted of works for unaccompanied violin, including this Ysaÿe Sonata -- I actually felt the audience's anticipation at that moment and knew that we were all "of one accord". That feeling of being one with the audience, while abstract, was a great success because the task on those evenings was to convey Ysaÿe's message and bring the audience along -- and not about the glorification of "the messenger".
I know you often collaborate with dance and theatre companies. What have been some of your most gratifying cross-/multi-disciplinary collaborations?
Those that have been the most gratifying have taken place over the past four seasons, beginning in 2006, when I debuted at the New Haven International Festival of Arts and Ideas in a multimedia staged recital that was conceived and directed by Peter Webster. In 2007, I was approached by Rajni Shah, who was collecting interviews for a work entitled Dinner With America that deals with the question of what it "means" to be American in the 21st century. My work as both an actor and musician with Carpetbag Theatre has been fulfilling as well: it has been wonderful to see the similarities in the creation of a new play and the rehearsal process undertaken by a symphony orchestra or chamber ensemble.
Is there any particular advice that you would give to a musician at the start of their career? Or to a starting-out musician in the current hard economic times?
Stay grounded so that you can trust your instincts! Sometimes the "noise" from the outside can cause one to lose oneself. Listen to your teachers, be very careful with your career choices, manage your finances, and definitely take the time to read articles and essays that cover all aspects of the business. The Fractured Atlas blog, artsjournal.com, Drew McManus’s adaptistration.com and the National Performance Network website are incredible resources! The most crucial thing, however, is the thing that some would question mentioning, as it seems obvious: keep the focus on the craft and make your work the best that it can be. Everything else will fall into place if "the main thing stays the main thing".
How do you use your Fractured Atlas membership?
After studying the organization and its services, I became quite impressed, and felt that the fiscal sponsorship program was an ideal tool for conducting fund raising efforts. Additionally, I have also listed performances on the events calendar and am currently investigating health insurance options.
What’s next on your professional horizon?
At this moment I am continuing my fund raising efforts, with one goal being to participate in competitions in both the United States and Europe during the next three years. I am also continuing my associations with Carpetbag Theatre and Alternate ROOTS, and am working on what will be my first recording. With all of this, however, I have to say that "life can happen while you’re making plans", so while my projects are dear to me -- and some of them time-sensitive -- I am also open to what the universe brings if I can bring the best of myself to it.
How can we learn more about you, hear your music, and learn about your tour schedule?
I have a blog/website (samuelathompson.blogspot.com) that contains a lot of information about my career and history as well as my performance schedule and my thoughts on many things. Both my concert schedule and audio samples can be found at ReverbNation (reverbnation.com/samuelthompson), a tremendous global online service for musicians.
Photo credits: Ryan Brodie (top), Yvonne Rabdau (bottom).