Returning to the classroom
Nine years after earning his Bachelor’s degree in music education from Pensacola Christian College, teacher Stefan Thompson is preparing to re-shoulder the knapsack for a return to the classroom with hopes of matriculating towards a Master’s degree in music composition at Boston Conservatory at Berklee.
Thompson, 31, the current sixth through 12th grade music teacher at Nassau Christian Academy (NCA), is hoping he’s granted a number of scholarships/grants he has applied for to help him defray his $45,000 annual tuition at the performing arts college.
To date, he’s received an $18,000 partial scholarship from Berklee, and was the recipient of a $1,500 tuition assistance grant from the Nassau Music Society.
He’s also made application for government tuition assistance, as well as for the Lyford Cay Scholarship program.
“If everything comes together my tuition would be just about covered, and the only thing I would have to worry about is living expenses,” said Thompson.
After nine years out of the student setting, Thompson said he decided to pursue his graduate studies because it’s always been something he wanted to do, but had put off because he never really saw a working future with it as he acknowledged working in the arts is difficult, especially in The Bahamas.
“But it’s one of those things that just keeps nagging at me and I just have to do it. And I said while I’m still young let me pursue this.”
When Thompson initially enrolled in college his declared major was mechanical engineering, but he soon realized that he wasn’t as connected to the course of study. At the ninth hour on the last day he was allowed to switch majors, he did – to music. It’s a decision he has never regretted.
And even though he is just beginning his journey towards earning a degree in music composition, he’s already had some success in the area, having won commencement competitions in both his junior and senior years at Pensacola for which he had to write an original piece and have it performed.
“It was something that just came. I never had any training in composition,” he said. “The first year I did it, that was the first song I ever wrote and I did it for choir and orchestra. It’s just something that’s more so innate I guess.”
Like most musically-inclined people, Thompson got his start in church and taught himself to play the piano with the assistance of a Sunday school teacher. He remembers always listening to her play, watching her play and wanting to do what she did. He said she would record tapes for him for the children’s choir at their church and tell him to practice what he heard at home. He would practice and then return to church that night and play.
It was a routine they maintained for months, which he said turned into years – to the point where he was finally tapped to actually play in church, accompanying the congregation and playing specials. After his church started a band with Dustin Babbs, Thompson learnt to play the saxophone, and from there, he said, his interest blossomed.
While his brothers also play instruments, he said they never gave any thought to where they got their musical ability.
“That’s the weird thing is my mom’s (Sharon Thompson) father (Donald Clarke) – I had never seen a picture of him growing up; it wasn’t until I was in my mid-20s that I saw a picture of him…and the only picture they have is of him holding a saxophone, which he played. I remember my mom telling us growing up that her father taught her to play the French horn, but I never really paid it any mind growing up, and I never asked any questions about it. I didn’t put the pieces together until I was an adult, that that was more than likely where I got my musical ability from.”
As Thompson keeps his fingers crossed in hopes his financial ducks line up so that he can pursue his Master’s degree in the fall, he says his life can be held up as an example to his students and others who are musically inclined or hoping to pursue degrees in the arts.
“Being a music teacher…students with musical ability who have passed through my classroom have asked me what they can do or how they can use their ability as the way they have often seen it happen is you end up teaching. And I know there are more options out there than that. We may be a little bit limited [as] our culture is still growing, but using my life as an example, I want to show them that this is possible.”
He said his advice to his students is that they don’t have to hamper their interests.
“I have a student who just graduated from 12th grade who is applying to go to different schools for January and he wants to be a film composer and I’ve told him that’s something that’s possible.”
He recounted for the student the time he spent at a film scoring workshop at New York University and said he told the student that just because they don’t see a Bahamian who has done it yet, doesn’t mean that they can’t be the first one.
Thompson said one of the main reasons he wanted to pursue a Master’s degree is also not just to study music composition, but because he wanted to grow beyond teaching in high school. He said he’s always wanted to teach at the college level.
“I want to definitely teach at university level, and hopefully that will be here. Just in my dealings with people on a day-to-day I hear about students who want to do so much with their music, but they don’t really have direction, so, I want to be a part of that growing sector in our country,” he said.
Thompson’s music can be heard on his website www.stefan-thompson.com.
Shavaughn was appointed as the Lifestyles Editor a few years later.