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Spotlight On Kelly Hall-Tompkins

Spotlight On Kelly Hall-Tompkins featured image

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Kelly Hall-Tompkins is one of New York City’s most in-demand violinists, who was influenced by the sounds of Bach in church and the classical pieces from her childhood often played on her favourite Saturday morning cartoons! She has taken her love of classical music to new heights by using her craft to help the homeless in New York. Check out The New Classical 96.3 FM‘s Q&A with her below.

This is our spotlight on Kelly Hall-Tompkins!

Q: What prompted you to begin to study the violin at just 9 years old?

A:There are several random but poignant influences that led me to the violin. Firstly, I grew up Lutheran, so I heard lot of music of Bach on Sundays. But on Saturdays, Warner Brothers cartoons were my staple, so a little character named Bugs Bunny introduced me to many classic pieces and music written in the classical style. I also sang in a school and regional choir in elementary school and enjoyed it immensely. But it all started coming together when my elementary school took a trip to see my hometown orchestra, the Greenville Symphony. The deal was finally sealed when a string quartet came to my elementary school to perform. At that point, I was hooked! I went home and announced to my Mom that I’d like to play the violin. It has been my life’s passion ever since that day!

Q: Out of all the instruments you could have studied, why did you choose the violin?

A: The singing and soulful nature of the tone speaks to me. Though my own voice is more of a mezzo, I identify with the violin’s soprano register and leadership role in melody and composition. I think that, plus the marriage of music and movement, is what jumped out at me as a young person watching and listening to those cartoons. But honestly, the magnetism I feel for a violin (and classical music) runs deep; it somehow feels much older than I am.

Q: Tell us a bit more about your work with the charity series called Music Kitchen- Food For the Soul

I founded Music Kitchen-Food for the Soul in 2005 to bring high level, mostly classical chamber music performance into New York City homeless shelters. Since 2005 I have presented 65 concerts, presented over 100 of New York’s top artists, including world renowned pianist Emanuel Ax and principal oboist of the Berlin Philharmonic Albrecht Mayer. Music Kitchen has reached thousands of shelter clients and remains a passion of mine because of its overwhelming success. Music Kitchen has also presented the first international concert at a shelter in Paris, France. Over the years I have heard countless stories from listeners about how the music has impacted their lives in some meaningful way- giving perspective, respite, hope, beauty. The musicians who play are also changed. Sometimes even more than their careers in concert halls, Music Kitchen artists leave with a sense that their art is making a difference in the world. The program is sustained on private donations, so if you would like be part of making these concerts happen, please visit to make a donation.

Q: What other instruments can you play/would like to learn to play?

A:I only learned proficiency piano as an undergraduate student at the Eastman School of Music. I wish I had listened to my Mom and started lessons as a child alongside the violin! But you never know what the future holds; I may yet learn to really play piano!
If I could play another string instrument, it would be the cello. I’ve always loved it.

Q: If you could meet any composer/musician dead or alive, who would it be?

A: I love the work of so many composers for so many reasons. But when I think of personalities and who I would most have like to know, two names come to mind most often: Mozart and Brahms. Mozart seems full of life and lots of fun, someone with whom I would have loved to share a laugh and a drink! And know that all the while, he was practically channeling dozens of new works in his mind. I would have loved to see that in action. I have read the book of his letters many times, and have visited his apartments in Salzburg and Vienna, but I would love to ask him more questions. Johannes Brahms has a special place in my heart and I would have just loved to know personally the man who crafted so many pieces, harmonies and counterpoints that move me so deeply. I would also have to chastise him a bit for burning so many of his works out of insecurity, and denying us the chance to know them. My Mom sketched a wonderful portrait of Brahms for me that hangs in my practice room. If I’m not mistaken, when I practice his music, he seems to be listening!

Q: What are the current projects you are working on?

A:I’ve recorded 2 solo CDs and was eager to do another recording project. But when I looked at the recording industry, it seemed to be in flux and not necessarily settling anytime soon: few stores selling discs anymore, online streaming sites are the new wave and picking up steam. So I decided to try something out of the box and record a couple of music videos! I know that’s reaching back even further to an earlier era for pop music, but for classical, the idea of videos has not been fully explored. I decided that creating a video would give me an opportunity to record, but to use my creativity and imagination in a new way and I’m very excited about the project! The release date is coming up soon in September!

Q: Do you have any family members involved in the musical world as well?

My husband is a professional percussionist, composer and instructor of music at a university. My step father, who came into my life after I was an adult, was a wonderful jazz trumpet player who played in 5 volunteer jazz bands in Central Florida for over 30 years. We used to love to talk about great jazz players and recordings. Before he passed, I’m happy that through a colleague of mine, I was able to take him to a concert of Wynton Marsalis and have him introduced backstage. I have a cousin who is an amateur singer and my Mother-in-law retired a few years ago as executive director of a performing arts center, preceded by her directorship of an opera festival.

Q: What are some of your favorite books?

A: Three of my current top favorite books are:
Steve Jobs
by Walter Isaacson

On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madame CJ Walker
by A’lelia Bundles

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead
by Sheryl Sandberg

Q: You’ve had many great achievements, but what one event in your mind is your proudest moment?

A:I don’t have any single proudest moment, but 3 vignettes come to mind:
1) Three different audience members during my last few seasons of performing, a journalist in Paris covering my performance, a professional folk musician friend of mine and a homeless gentleman listener at my Music Kitchen series have each told me independently that they never liked or understood classical music before, but after hearing me play, have fallen in love with it. Knowing that, I feel so good about the future of classical music audiences and my contribution to the field.
2) Even after winning several concerto competitions in grade school, I was never particularly attracted to the professional solo violin competition track. But in 2003 I decided to dive into a major one, the Naumburg International Violin Competition. Though I was less than 48 hours returned from a tour of Asia, I had a lot of fun at my audition rounds, played great and was awarded an Honorarium Prize.
3) As a graduate student in a music history class of the prolific Post-Romantic Period, we were asked to demonstrate an oral exam in front of the class for the final grade. As part of the material, we had to know backwards and forward every detail- musical, historical and analytical- of a vast array of lengthy works. When my question came, the professor requested that I name the origin of a particular theme. He went to the staff on the chalkboard and proceeded to draw the first note. Before he even got to the second note, the floodgates of my redundantly thorough preparation could hold back no longer -I blurted out, “Stravinsky Symphony of Psalms, Second movement, Oboe solo!!” His hand froze on the chalkboard in amazement, then slowly he lowered the chalk to his side and turned to look at me. It’s a story my husband and I share a laugh about to this day, but I take seriously my responsibility to know the music I play inside and out!

Check out Kelly Hall-Tompkins when she performed in our concert lobby last year.

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