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A final bow for Mallory Thompson

Northwestern’s director of bands reflects on a history-making career and talks about her final performances
mallory thompson
Under Mallory Thompson’s direction, the Symphonic Wind Ensemble recorded five CDs and celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2019 with a concert featuring nearly 200 alumni. She will conduct her final Northwestern Performances on April 19 and May 26.

When Mallory Thompson first stepped on the campus of Northwestern as an undergrad student, she had the goal of becoming a professional trumpet player. Little did she know that she’d go on to make history as the University’s first woman director of bands and be just the third person to hold that title.

Now, after nearly three decades of dedication and service to the Bienen School of Music, Thompson is preparing to take her final bows in the first of two final concerts at Northwestern.

“I am going out with bright eyes,” Thompson said while reflecting on the end of her tenure. “I'm really grateful and have no regrets. I feel good about the timing, loving the music and the students, and about loving Northwestern the way that I do.”

Thompson, who earned both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Northwestern, announced her retirement last fall.

Her final concerts with the Symphonic Wind Ensemble (SWE) are the culmination of a history-making, 28-year career on the Evanston campus.

“It is an absolute joy making music with the SWE students in an atmosphere of dedication, generosity and commitment,” Thompson said. “Their talent and eagerness to improve and contribute inspires me and I will treasure these experiences for the rest of my life.”

Under Thompson’s direction, the Symphonic Wind Ensemble recorded five CDs, performed multiple public performances at Chicago’s Millennium Park and celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2019 with a concert featuring nearly 200 alumni, a majority of whom hold positions with major orchestras and military ensembles across the country. 

To honor Thompson’s Northwestern legacy, a fund has been established to support academic and athletic bands for years to come. 

“One of the things that I'm happy about is this fund will give my successor some flexibility and opportunity to be creative and realize some ambitions for the program,. It should be able to do things for students that I was not able to realize because I didn't necessarily have that funding,” Thompson said.

On Friday, April 19 at 7:30 p.m. in Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, Thompson leads the Symphonic Wind Ensemble in a program focused on themes of inspiration and dedication. Her final program on Sunday, May 26, at 5 p.m. showcases a variety of wind ensemble favorites and opens with Thompson’s own arrangement of the “Prelude to Act III,” “Dance,” and “Finale” from Richard Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg” — a work Thompson dedicates to her teacher and mentor Donald Hunsberger, who passed away last November.

Post retirement, Thompson plans to continue guest conducting. “Anywhere I go in the world, I'm going to plant the purple flag. I will always be an advocate for, and a very noisy supporter for Northwestern, because that's my home.”

Tickets for both concerts are available online, by phone at 847-467-4000 or in-person at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall.