John ThompsonJohn Thompson has studied musicology at Haverford College, Pennsylvania and Asian studies at Florida State University. He then continued his studies in ethnomusicology at the University of Michigan. John Thompson began studying the qin in 1974 with Sun Yuqin (1915-1990), a qin master from Hebei province who went to Taiwan in 1949 and in 1989 became one of the first people honored as a Living National Cultural Treasure by the Republic of China.
Because of the relatively small number of pieces in the current qin repertoire, in 1976 Thompson started reconstructing (dapu) qin melodies from old tablature (which describes in detail tunings, finger positions and stroke techniques but does not directly indicate note values). He selected the first large extant collection, Shen Qi Mi Pu (Handbook of Spiritual and Marvelous Mysteries, 1425), as his focus. In 1977 he began consulting Tong Kin-Woon in Hong Kong, and has since also consulted qin masters and performed his reconstructions in China. In 1992 the National Union of Chinese Musicians invited him to Beijing as the focus of a seminar on Shen Qi Mi Pu.
In 1980 Thompson took a job editing publications for Hong Kong's Festival of Asian Arts, then in 1986 became the festival's Artistic Coordinator. In this capacity he spent considerable time traveling in Asia to see performances and meet artists and organisers. He was also able to continue work on his reconstructions of old qin music.
In his work with the Hong Kong Festival of Asian Arts from 1980 to 1998, John Thompson did much to broaden the appreciation of Asian culture, aiming in particular to further the international position of the arts of that region by emphasising them simply as 'arts', rather than as 'traditional arts', or 'ethnic arts'.
His work and performances on the Chinese silk string zither (qin, or guqin - old qin) are part of this same work.
In 1991 he completed his transcriptions (350 pages of staff notation) and recordings (about five and a half hours total) of all the music in Shen Qi Mi Pu. He then began learning music from later handbooks, in particular Zheyin Shizi Qinpu (<1491). Under a grant from the Hong Kong Arts Development Council in 1997 and 1998 he published "Music Beyond Sound", a CD and a book of transcriptions of the music in Zheyin Shizi Qinpu. In 1999 and 2000 he completed his CDs and transcriptions of his main project, Shen Qi Mi Pu, including six CDs and three books of staff notation.
In 2001 he married Suzanne Smith and moved with her to the New York city area. He has since focused on his own guqin activities: performing, researching and teaching.