Philly music educator tapped to deliver TED talk

Stanford Thompson of Play On

Stanford Thompson of Play On

TED, the international showcase of innovative ideas famous for its TED Talks, has announced its 2017 class of fellows. Among the 15 selected from around the world is Stanford Thompson, the founder of a music education program called Play On! Philly.

When trumpet player Thompson was about the graduate from Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute in 2009, he discovered an online TED Talk by Jose Antonio Abreu, the founder of the El Sistema music education philosophy in Venezuela.

It inspired him to create an El Sistema-based education program in Philadelphia. Play On! Philly now has 250 students who each receive 600 hours of music training and perform 30 concerts a year.

Thompson is now bringing it full circle with his application — and acceptance — as a TED fellow, himself. The fellowship offers no financial support. But TED, a nonprofit media organization, gives its members complete access to a network of innovative thinkers and entrepreneurs — and a huge international audience.

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“It’s so easy to be trapped in what I call an echo chamber,” said Thompson, who called the fellowship “transformational.”

“By spreading our message on the TED platform, we can reach tens of millions of people instantly,” he said. “I mean, we have a couple thousand people on our mailing list. It’s really a big difference.”

That TED talk in 2009 by the El Sistema founder introduced the program and its character-building benefits. It most famous product is Gustavo Dudamel, now the music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

When Thompson takes the TED stage this April in Vancouver, he will talk about how El Sistema can change the way we think about education in the future.

“Considering that El Sistema is 40 years old, and we are 6 years old — let’s dream together about what impact the El Sistema philosophy can have on the kids of Philadelphia in the next 35 years,” said Thompson.

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