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The Voice of the Black Community

Arts and Entertainment

Young, musically gifted, and black
Published Thursday, October 16, 2008
by Ryanne Persinger

With the exception of holding his bow, at first glance you wouldn’t think Eric Thompson III is part of an orchestra.

He’s shy and soft-spoken; however his voice shines through in his music.

Thompson is a bass player in the Charlotte Symphony. He joined the company last season, replacing a musician on leave. At 24, he’s one of the youngest players in the orchestra and one of two African Americans, along with bassoon player Josh Hood.

Thompson, from Atlanta, moved to Charlotte to become a part of one of the largest performing arts organizations in the Carolinas.

“To me this is definitely an accomplishment,” Thompson said. “I just got to the point where I loved music so much that I wanted to go into music.”
Growing up as one of eight children, Thompson says he loved all things with an acoustic or instrumental sound. He can appreciate all kinds of music but is especially keen on classical and bluegrass, which mixes acoustic guitar, banjo, fiddle and upright bass.

Thompson’s mother, Adrienne, taught him music during his elementary and high school years. She describes her son as reserved; that is until he gets comfortable.

“He was always quiet in the classroom but whenever he would get in the car it’s like he would spill out a volcano of words,” she said. “He held all the words in school and talked non-stop on the way home,” she laughed.

Her husband, Willie, plays the saxophone. Brother Stanford, a trumpeter, is also considering making music a career. He’s a student at Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia - Eric’s alma mater.

“Each of my children by the time they were 8 started playing an instrument,” Adrienne said. “Eric started with the guitar and later switched to the bass because he couldn’t play the guitar in the orchestra.”

In addition to his music training, Thompson was involved in the Atlanta Symphony’s Talent Development Program, which supports Latino and African American students who want to pursue careers in classical music. Since the program began 15 years ago, only two have earned spots in a professional orchestra, says Beth Wilson, director of student musician development at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Thompson was the first.

Wilson says Thompson was also the first to be awarded a scholarship in honor of the program’s founder Azira Hill, an African American. The scholarship funded Thompson’s study under Ralph Jones, the Atlanta Symphony’s principal bassist.

After high school Thompson went on to graduate with a bachelor of music from the Curtis Institute of Music.

Mary Gramling, the co-chair of the volunteer committee, which supports the Talent Development Program, says she’s known Thompson since he entered the program in the 1990s. She said in no way was she surprised that he’s now apart of the Charlotte Symphony, instead she was delighted.
“There are so few pieces that are written for the bass, but (Thompson) has a real feeling for it,” Gramling said. “He exudes warmth as a person and a musician. He has a real knack and it’s been wonderful to watch.”

Gramling added that in comparison to Thompson’s siblings, specifically Stanford, he is quiet.

“Eric has always been friendly and has a great smile,” Gramling added. “He’s just a delightful young man, delightful.”

Some of Thompson’s favorite pieces are Beethoven and Sprach Zarathustra and he says the biggest misconceptions people have about orchestra music is that it’s boring, Thompson says, adding that it is really exciting music once you learn to appreciate it.

“I think a lot of people are just underexposed to it,” Thompson said. “I think the only time people hear it is when they are in the elevator or on the phone waiting on hold,” he joked.

As for Thompson’s future?

“I’d just like to live comfortably doing what I like to do,” Thompson said. “I’d also like to nurture the next generation of musicians.”


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