Title: Choral Instructor,
Staunton River Middle School & High School
Your teaching job at Staunton River High School (SRHS) isn’t too far from where you grew up.
As a child, I grew up in Madison Heights with my mother. I attended Madison Heights Elementary, Monelison Middle School and Amherst County
When did you start to develop an interest in music?
I had always enjoyed listening to music. I remember as a child I was drawn to the music of Whitney Houston and consider her to be my favorite artist.
It wasn’t until the age of 13 that I began singing, which began in church.
Aside from church, did you focus on music in school as well?
Yes. I began singing in the high school choir at Amherst High with the group Amherechos, which included concert choir and show choir.
You eventually decided to pursue music as a career.
Describe your experience at Lynchburg College (LC).
Attending LC was the best choice I could have ever made. The music department was like a family, and they pushed not just me but all their students
to be great musicians and educators. I give a lot of credit to my voice instructor, Dr. Jong Kim, for making me the musician and educator I am today.
By 2007, you made your professional debut here in Lynchburg. Tell us about that performance with Opera on the James.
In 2007, I was a junior at LC. During this time, the choral department would participate in the opera productions with the local opera company, Opera on the James. During this particular season the opera company was in search for a baritone to play the role of the Duke in their production of Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette. My professors excused me from a few of my classes to complete rehearsals and take French lessons in preparation for the role. For me, this performance was one of the highlights for me and my career. Being able to perform with “professional” artists was simply amazing.
After you graduated, where did life take you next?
After graduating from LC in 2008, I immediately went into completing my master’s degree at Morgan State University in Baltimore.
Then you decided take your talents overseas.
How did you end up with a music-related job in China?
During the summer of 2009, I visited China with the Morgan State University choir as we toured and performed in some of the major cities there. Dr. Oeida Hatcher, dean of Communication and the Arts at Lynchburg College, knew that I had just come back from the tour. In an email, she sent me information about a performance hall in search for an artistic director. Once I figured out where the position was I decided to apply thinking that they wouldn’t hire me since this would have been my first professional position right out of college. A couple of weeks later, I interviewed via Skype and two weeks after that, they called back saying I had the job as Artistic Director of the Mulan Children’s Choir at the Tianjin Concert Hall in Tianjin, China.
What was it like teaching in China?
It was a wonderful experience. I taught at a performance hall, so this served as an extracurricular activity for the students. Classes were held on Friday through Sunday. The students learned primarily the Western style of music, while also teaching me Chinese for the opening music festival of the performance hall held each summer.
One statement I heard often especially once returning from China was, “I bet the students were a lot more well behaved than here.” Not sure if I would agree with that 100 percent. In China, I taught about 140 kids. They were all excited about music and a majority of them had some type of music background.
And you also recorded an album along the way?
When performing locally, many people always asked if I had a CD, and I would tell them no. This encouraged me to record one of my favorite styles of music, spirituals, which is the title of my album. The album Spirituals can be found on iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon.
Now in your current position at SRHS, what does an average day look like for you?
I am currently the choral director at Staunton River Middle School and Staunton River High School. In the morning, I teach at the middle school where I have one seventh-grade choir and two eighth-grade choirs. In the afternoon, I travel to the high school where I teach a general chorus (beginning students) and my advanced choir. I teach roughly 140 students between both schools combined.
What do you enjoy the most about working with your students?
Being able to see my students growing musically and making wonderful choral music is the greatest joy.
And as if you aren’t busy enough, you’re getting your doctorate at Columbia University. How does that work since you are still here in Central Virginia?
I am currently working on my Doctor of Education in the College Teaching of Music and Music Education at Teachers College, Columbia University.
During the academic year, I complete online courses, and my summers are spent in New York City completing summer intensive courses.
Once you obtain that degree, what’s next for you on your journey?
Once completing this degree, I would love to teach vocal/choral music on the college level and perform as a soloist more.
Any ultimate goal you hope to reach with your musical talents?
I currently feel I have had one of the greatest careers so far as an educator and musician. It is my goal to continue to perform and touch the lives of those who attend my performances.
How can readers get in touch with you?
Readers can visit my website at www.derrickthompson.webs.com.