Growing up, Stanford Thompson played music for a lot of different reasons. The most obvious of which was that it made him happy. Music was beautiful, it was fun, and he practiced because he wanted to keep getting better at something he enjoyed. As he improved, it seemed to bring more and more benefits: a community, an education, a career. But over the years, Thompson noticed something else music was doing for him — something that he hadn’t necessarily sought out, but which had happened anyway: Music, he believed, was making him a better person.
It wasn’t until his senior year of college at the Curtis Institute of Music that Thompson came across someone else who wanted to focus on this happy side effect. In 2009, Thompson watched José Antonio Abreu make his case for the TED Prize. Abreu spoke about a program he had founded in 1975 called El Sistema, and how, for decades, its mission of bringing immersive music education to poor children in Venezuela had transformed lives by teaching discipline, cooperation, responsibility and more. Abreu wanted to bring this program to the United States.
Fast forward several years, and Thompson is the founder and executive director of Play On, Philly!, one of the most successful El Sistema-inspired programs in the United States. By starting and running free music programs at underserved schools in Philadelphia, Thompson has committed himself to improving the lives of children by teaching them music. Whether from his own experience as a musician or from watching its influence upon others, he believes as firmly as ever that good music makes better people, who make better communities, who make a better world.