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Kelly Hall-Tompkins: Bringing classical music to both concert halls and those experiencing homelessness

Violinist performing with Madison Symphony Orchestra this weekend
Violinist Kelly Hall-Tompkins has brought her music to some of the world’s great concert halls, but also to tens of thousands of others at shelters.
Published: Jan. 19, 2022 at 4:30 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 19, 2022 at 6:31 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Violinist Kelly Hall-Tompkins has brought her music to some of the world’s great concert halls, but also to tens of thousands of others at shelters who might not have ever had the chance to hear it.

Violinist Kelly Hall-Tompkins
Violinist Kelly Hall-Tompkins(Kelly Hall-Tompkins)

The solo violinist, who performs with orchestras around the nation and the world, created her Music Kitchen-- Food for the Soul in 2005. She came up with the idea for Music Kitchen when she was volunteering as a cook at her church shelter and decided to practice a piece she was working on at the time. The shelter clients’ positive reactions to her violin performance started her thinking about creating a program to bring classical music to those who might otherwise not hear it.

Kelly Hall-Tompkins & pianist Emanuel Ax perform at a shelter.
Kelly Hall-Tompkins & pianist Emanuel Ax perform at a shelter.(Kelly Hall-Tompkins)

Through more than 100 concerts, classical artists have performed for some 30,000 people experiencing homelessness since that time. Hall-Tompkins said, ”I’ve seen transformative experiences and transformative reactions. There’s one that stays with me. One of our clients said, ‘My life is forever changed because you people were here today. I will never forget this day.’”

She added that another shelter client said, “This is such a blessing. You play so compassionately. I’ve had such a hard day and I will carry this with me for the rest of the week.”

Audience members react to a Music Kitchen--Food for the Soul performance.
Audience members react to a Music Kitchen--Food for the Soul performance.(Kelly Hall-Tompkins)

For her work through Music Kitchen Food for the Soul, the New York Times named Hall-Tompkins a “New Yorker of the Year.” The same publication described her artistically as, “The versatile violinist who makes the music come alive.”

Audience members applaud a Music Kitchen Food for the Soul performance.
Audience members applaud a Music Kitchen Food for the Soul performance.(Kelly Hall-Tompkins)

Hall-Tompkins said she started playing the violin at age 9.

“You know, I just fell in love with it. I think it was in my blood somewhere. I sifted the music out of my environment. I think the influences that I had around me were the Lutheran Church and the Baroque music at my Lutheran Church, but also Warner Brothers cartoons, believe it or not. I heard one on Sunday one on Saturday. And then when my elementary school took us to hear the local orchestra, I was absolutely transfixed. I remember hanging over the balcony and listening. I think the violin concertmaster played Sheherazade solo. So naturally, I was very drawn into that. And then when a string quartet came to my elementary school afterwards, I said that’s what I want to do.”

Kelly Hall-Tompkins performs with her violin in a church as a child.
Kelly Hall-Tompkins performs with her violin in a church as a child.(Kelly Hall-Tompkins)

Hall-Tompkins, who speaks eight different languages, and was the Fiddler violin soloist in the Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof for more than year, will perform the Madison premiere of the Wynton Marsalis Violin Concerto with the Madison Symphony Orchestra this weekend.

Hall-Tompkins said, “First of all, overture Hall is stunning. I cannot wait to go there. It just looks beautiful. And I can’t wait to play with the Madison Symphony. This Wynton Marsalis Violin Concerto is just extraordinary. I can’t wait to be with you all this weekend. It’s just an incredible piece that draws from so much of my life experience and so much of the music that I’ve made--both the classical canon and pushing the boundaries beyond classical music--so I’m thoroughly enjoying getting to know this this extraordinary piece, and I can’t wait to share it.”

MSO Concert graphic
MSO Concert graphic(Madison Symphony Orchestra)

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