Red Deer Public Library’s 100th anniversary celebrations continue with a visit from a very special musical guest on April 5.
Duke Thompson, a former resident of Red Deer, will be featured during the Keyboard Conversations with Duke Thompson presentation which begins at 7:30 p.m. It’s a free concert marking the centennial of the RDPL, and it takes place in the Snell Gallery.
Thompson has a soft spot for Red Deer he explains during a recent interview from his home in Havre de Grace, Maryland, where he founded the Maryland Conservatory of Music in 2001 and serves as president.
He also keeps busy on other fronts, teaching, recording and performing as well. He has four CDs to his credit. In his coming show, he’ll be performing tunes from all four projects which include Greatly Gershwin, Lots to Consider, These Hands Rock and his latest project Dr. Duke as Lincoln.
Meanwhile, Red Deer’s music scene just hasn’t been quite the same since Thompson settled south of the border. The popular Red Deer College teacher, businessman and extremely accomplished musician always wowed local audiences with his sophisticated, polished approach to playing.
Thompson holds a doctorate degree in piano performance from Arizona State University. He taught at RDC for 17 years.
After relocating to Maryland, he’s been able over the years to share his musical gifts with a wide audience on the east coast, with performances in New York City and the Baltimore area.
Thompson was born in Edmonton but raised in Maryland. After finishing up his post-secondary studies, he learned of a teaching post at Red Deer College and took it. He thought he’d stay for a couple of years, but ended up staying for 17.
“My life’s been kind of a ping pong match between Alberta and Maryland,” he chuckles. “But I always had a fascination with Canada because out of six children, I was the only one born in Canada. So I’m the only one with Canadian citizenship, and I always loved that as a kid. I used to root for all the Canadians in the Olympics because that was my unique thing as one of six growing up. It set me apart; I loved the idea that I was Canadian.”
As to his love for music, it was sparked at an early age. “I was seven. We all came home from school one day, and there was a great big grand piano there. My mother said ‘Who wants to take piano lessons’, and I raised my hand. It was just something new to do.” Learning the instrument came very naturally to him, he recalls.
And even though he’s lived state-side for several years, he returns regularly to Red Deer and retains a strong affection for this area. He remains co-owner of The Vat, a popular local pub as well. And speaking of The Vat, he will be doing a concert there on April 6 at 3:30 p.m.
“I was in Red Deer from my 20s through to my 40s – pretty significant years of my life. So it’s a very special place for me, no doubt about it.”
But the past several years – although successful – have brought serious challenges his way.
In 2007, Thompson crashed into a tree during a night drive home and nearly lost his life. He says his height (six ft. six ins.) saved him. Had he been shorter, his head would have sustained deadly injury but as it was, his left shoulder and side took the brunt of the horrendous impact.
He was airlifted to Maryland Shock Trauma in Baltimore. Other injuries included a collapsed lung, a severe concussion, a shattered shoulder and broken ribs.
As he healed, he found he had a brand new passion to write and arrange his own original songs. Much of the material on Lots to Consider resulted from that period of his life. “I started writing music almost as a therapy. And ever since then, over the past seven years, I write music that reaches very, very deep inside. I really reach into the spirit and soul, and that’s my newfound love for music – that it’s such an emotional expression.
“I also have come to love music so much more in the last seven years because I’m writing my own music, and I’m doing my own arrangements,” he says. Although classical styles were the main focus for many years, now he’s branching out into other genres including everything from the blues to Americana to classic rock.
“I’ve never been more in love with music than I am now.”