When the arts are reported in the news, artists are identified by their major talents and latest accomplishments. The violinist Kelly Hall-Tompkins was featured in the NY Times yesterday for her role in the pit of Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway, playing the solos that are interspersed throughout the show. It's a lovely piece, but here's something you might not know about Kelly. In addition to her prodigious performing talents, she is also a teaching artist and the founder of Music Kitchen. (It's one of the things that interests me: uncovering the ways that artists make themselves of service to the world, but that often go unnoticed.) I wrote a piece about it for CHAMBER MUSIC a few years ago, and here is an excerpt:
The Music Kitchen: Kelly Hall-Tompkins
What can one lone musician do about the great sea of need out there? Ask Kelly Hall-Tompkins, the New York violinist who in 2005 founded a community service-oriented music series called Music Kitchen—Food for the Soul. On the organization’s website, Hall-Tompkins explains the origin of the project. Having just gone through the wrenching experience of a friend’s death, she realized a performance was coming right up and there wasn’t time to organize a play-through of the concert program before the usual group of friends and colleagues. Her husband, Joe, who coordinated the volunteer cooks for a men’s homeless shelter, suggested she play for the residents. On the Music Kitchen website, Hall-Tompkins writes:
The experience was very rewarding... Some had never heard classical music before, and some were knowledgeable about it, but all seemed interested and moved by the music…They asked me to return to play for them again the following evening, even though they knew it would be the same repertoire, so I did. They seemed to enjoy the music just as much, if not more, the second time.
Thus Music Kitchen was born; and over the last several years, Hall-Tompkins, performing with specially chosen colleagues and friends, has gradually increased the organization’s scope. To date, she has presented 55-plus concerts at the city’s shelters for men and women, attracting the attention not only of this magazine (May/June 2007), but also The New York Times (December 1, 2009). Even such marquee names as pianist Emmanuel Ax and Albrecht Mayer, principal oboist of the Berlin Philharmonic, have responded to Hall-Tompkins’s invitations to perform with her in the shelters.
The unexpected rewards of Music Kitchen’s activities go two ways: Hall-Tompkins always tries to draw her audience in with strategic bits of learning and personal anecdotes, and her listeners respond in kind. Some shelter residents have surprised her by getting right to the heart of the music with their astute comments, and others possess impressive technical knowledge.
Hall-Tompkins has turned her singular venture into its own non-profit organization; and in addition to playing her violin in the concerts, she raises money through private donations and special events. One lone musician, it turns out, can do a lot.