As the son of a piano professor, Christopher Thompson had both at an early age, but you won't find him around a piano.
Margaret Pardee, a violin instructor at New York's Julliard School, visited Georgia's Valdosta State when Thompson's dad was a professor there.
"She and my dad became great friends," Thompson said. "I was 2 years old, sitting under my father's 7-foot concert grand piano while she played violin."
Pardee gave Thompson a small violin when he was 2 and a half. He played around with it for a few years, and started formal lessons when he was 6.
"My father wanted to teach me piano, but I didn't want any part in that," Thompson said. "Ever since I saw Margaret Pardee playing, I knew the violin was for me."
In July, Thompson retired after nearly 30 years of teaching. His last post was professor of violin and chairman of the string division at the University of Louisiana at Monroe.
"They offered me an early retirement package, and I couldn't refuse," he said. "There comes a time in everyone's life that, if you can, you need to move back home."
Thompson finished high school in Virginia, and he went to the University of Alabama for his undergraduate degree. He earned a master's at the University of Memphis, and a doctorate at Louisiana State University.
Throughout his time as a college student and, later, as a professor, Thompson's parents lived in Starkville. His father, Harold Thompson, is a retired professor from Mississippi State University.
"I performed with the Tupelo Symphony Orchestra 30 years ago when I was at Alabama," he said.
His wife, Laura Thompson, grew up in Pontotoc, so that provided another connection to Northeast Mississippi.
And while he was studying at LSU, he received a scholarship from the Tupelo Young Artist Foundation.
"A.E. Patterson was president then," Thompson said. "That paid for an apartment for my wife and I during school at LSU."
Thanks to those ties, Thompson turned toward Tupelo when he took that early retirement package. With an office at Link Centre, Thompson began teaching violin this month.
"I really wanted to come back here and contribute," he said. "It's a symbiotic relationship. It's perfect for me, and it feeds a need for children who want to learn."
He teaches the traditional violin method that he was taught, as well as the Suzuki method.
"I prefer to start them when they're really young, 4 to 7, with the Suzuki method," he said. "We have their mothers take notes or video the lessons, then they're the teachers during the week.
"The motivation is there because they want to please their mother or dad or grandparent," he continued. "They're having fun. They don't know they're learning something. It's not like work."
Thompson will teach any age, but the biggest impact comes when working with youngsters.
"If they get the exposure and they have the talent, it draws them in," he said.
Return to TSO
In addition to teaching violin, Thompson will perform with Tupelo Symphony Orchestra this season.
"Early on, I decided I wanted to become the best violinist I could become, and I would do it while I had a teaching career," he said. "I didn't think I would be satisfied if I did nothing but perform or nothing but teach, I needed both."
While he's doing both in Tupelo, his wife is a professor of voice at Louisiana Tech.
"She's looking to see if I can survive as a self-employed musician," he said with a smile. "It's going to be difficult to live apart for the year. You can do it if you have to, but it's not fun. You kind of get used to each other after 36 years."
The pair are committed to the move, and they've bought the house Laura's great-grandparents lived in. They plan to restore the east Pontotoc property.
"I think this was the time to see if I could reinvent myself," he said. "The response has been amazing so far. I already have 12 students signed up."
The talent will be up to the students, and Thompson said he's happy to be the one to provide the opportunity.
"It's important to expose children to quality music and performance when they're young," he said. "It's not just listening, but we want them participating in the music-making process. That's when the magic happens."
Contact M. Scott Morris at (662) 678-1589 or firstname.lastname@example.org.