Not many teenagers would attempt to write a two-act chamber opera based on Shakespeare’s play The Winter’s Tale. But that’s exactly what 16-year-old Amy Thompson has been doing for more than a year.
“It’s been a long, drawn-out project, but I hope to finish it by the end of the summer,” she says.
“It started as an assignment to read one of Shakespeare’s plays and write a prelude. As I was reading, I kept thinking, ‘This would make a good aria here.’ I was telling that to Dr. Deakin, and he asked if I would like to write an opera. I think now, if I could go back, I’d say, ‘No, I don’t want to do this thing that’s going to take years,’” she says with a laugh.
This remarkable Blair pre-college student also practices harp and piano four hours a day, studies high-school physics, pre-calculus, Bible, German and economics, and takes an online English course from Nashville State Community College.
“Amy is one of the most gifted pre-college students I have ever had the privilege to teach at Blair,” says Paul Deakin, senior lecturer in music theory. “She completed our four-year college-level theory program in a year—an incredible achievement. She has been taking private composition lessons for two years and has already produced several works of the highest quality.”
Home-schooled since she was 7, Thompson began piano instruction at age 6 and lessons on a tiny harp when she was 11. She enrolled at Blair in the eighth grade, receiving the Myra Jackson Blair Scholarship for harp in ninth grade and for piano last year.
Thompson has composed several pieces for piano and harp, including “a compelling piece for voice and harp,” Deakin says, “a series of haiku by the Japanese poet Basho connected to create a cyclic form that takes the listener on a journey through the seasons. It’s a beautiful work.”
Thompson is also an accomplished performer. She placed seventh in her division at the 18th American Harp Society National Competition held in Salt Lake City, Utah. In 2010 she won the Nashville Area Music Teachers Association’s Young Artists Achievement Award for piano in the junior/senior category, as well as the Sewanee Summer Music Festival’s 2010 Concerto Competition.
Marian Shaffer, adjunct professor of harp, calls Thompson “a wonderfully talented student who truly loves all aspects of music.” Valerie Middleton, adjunct artist teacher of piano, says her technique and artistry exhibit “a refinement few high school students achieve.”
Although she feels most comfortable with the piano, Thompson’s heart belongs to a beautiful, 80-pound Lyon and Healy harp, which she brings back and forth from her home in Springfield, Tenn., several times a week.
“I love the way the harp resonates and vibrates on my shoulder,” she says. “My fingers are in direct contact with what makes the sound. I also love the look of the harp.”
So what does this hard-working student do for fun? “Music is fun,” she says. But like any teen, the soft-spoken brunette enjoys friendships with the other pre-college students at Blair. She also completed a half-marathon last year and volunteers her time playing the harp at nursing homes on a regular basis.
As for the future, Thompson envisions a teaching career. “I want to continue to study at an academic university,” she says, noting that only three schools in the top 20 offer courses in harp: Vanderbilt, Rice and Northwestern.
Deakin predicts great things for his gifted student: “With all that she’s accomplished thus far, I wonder, ‘What’s next?’ She has the world at her feet.”
© 2016 Vanderbilt University | Photo credit: John Russell