By: Jarrod Eamon Fasching
Every donor at CSUN has their own perspectives and goals that shape their interest in giving back to the university. For alumna Joan Thompson ’70 (Music) M.A. ’72 (Music), that motto is “be the person you needed when you were a student."
For the past three years, the Joan Thompson Piano Scholarship has provided resources to many of the students studying piano at CSUN. Dr. Dmitry Rachmanov, Head of Keyboard Studies, shared that Joan is “one of the most generous piano scholarship donors at CSUN Music Department. Her scholarship has supported a number of gifted young pianists, some of whom would have not been able to come to CSUN or continue their studies here without her help. Her generosity has made a huge difference, uplifting our morale, and making it possible to attract some major talent." In addition to financially supporting these students, Joan is a consummate host and regularly opens her home and Steinway piano to them, providing the opportunity to practice performance etiquette and stage presence as they prepare for their own juries, recitals, and competitions. Joan even opened up her home to host Bin Huang, one of the most outstanding violinists from China, who was a featured performer for ChamberFest@CSUN in 2019.
Joan conveyed that “the rewarding experience as a donor comes from seeing others benefit from your help. When I see how students who have been the recipient of scholarships have succeeded, it makes me realize how I helped to give them the opportunity to grow and thrive. Do a little good for the world and leave it a nicer place than when you met it.” According to Dr. Rachmanov, “We feel extremely lucky to have Joan Thompson as our friend and supporter. The generosity of her involvement in our piano program is hard to overestimate—it has made and continues to make a huge impact onto what we can offer to our students.”
Joan’s connection to the university began as she entered San Fernando Valley State College in 1966 as a piano performance major in the Music Department. Already a very accomplished pianist, it was the combination of the university’s exceptional reputation in the music field, the close proximity to her home, and the generous aid package that was offered that led to her choice to attend what would become California State University, Northridge. Looking back, Joan mentioned that it was package of grants and scholarships given by other donors that was intrinsic to her success as a student. “I was fortunate that others’ hearts were open and saw something in me that I didn’t recognize in myself at the time,” she reflected.
For a budding musician, the combination of noted professionals on faculty, the intense and challenging classes, and an environment filled with driven and passionate fellow students made Valley State the perfect training ground to develop skills as a soloist, an accompanist, an orchestra pianist and celesta player, and more. “It was a wonderful department—always high class, having the highest standards, passionate students. It was like a conservatory,” she shared. With the goal of eventually becoming a piano teacher herself, Joan pursued and attained a bachelor’s and then a master’s degree while studying privately under some of the most talented and noted musicians of that era: Adrian Ruiz, Daniel Pollack, and Jacob Gimpel.
As a student, and eventually a graduate assistant, Joan impacted the lives of others through her musical collaborations and as an instructor for classes that are mandatory for all musicians like Class Piano and Music Appreciation. Many undergraduate music students joke to each other that they should make friends with pianists since “you never know when you’ll need someone to play with you for a recital or concert.” If this is true, then Joan was one of the best friends one could have at CSUN, having performed beside many other students for their senior and graduate recitals, relishing the opportunity to support others’ success and making a point to never charge a friend for that partnership.
One of her proudest experiences came from playing the piano part for Igor Stravinsky’s famous ballet Petrushka. This masterwork demands an impressive range of skills from the pianist and has sections that are as virtuosic as many piano concertos. To have the opportunity to perform this exciting piece led by renowned conductor Lawrence Christianson makes this memory even that much more special. Another valuable experience took place during her master’s recital, when she boldly performed Un sospiro by Franz Liszt as an encore, a piece she had prepared in secret. Joan’s mother had remarked many times, “Why don’t you learn the Liszt?” and being able to surprise her with a performance of that piece in concert provided a meaningful and fitting culmination to Joan’s years of study.
After her graduation, Joan taught part-time at CSUN and local Moorpark College. When a full-time position opened at Moorpark, Joan was the perfect fit and began what would eventually be a rewarding thirty-six-year tenure, shaping the lives of generations of musicians. Joan explained that she enjoyed wonderful experiences under great teachers, and she wanted to have an impact on the field by modeling those teachers who helped shape her as a pianist and as a source of support for her students. To add to her life filled with music, Joan married accomplished musician, vocalist, and teacher John Paton in 1987. They collaborate on many musical endeavors, and it was through John that Joan came to develop a greater love for vocal music and opera.
After many years of teaching young musicians, Joan began reflecting on the factors that led to her success with the scholarships she benefitted from at the top of that list. Having been in a position of relying on other’s generosity and now being in the position of being able to be that positive force in others’ lives, she took inspiration from John’s philanthropy to his own alma maters and reached out to CSUN to see how she could be a force for good. A champion of the impact that scholarships have on students, Joan voiced her encouragement for others to consider giving back and being that positive force for the success of others: “Pass that generosity along.”
Joan also mentioned the desire for passions and interests outside of music to stay well rounded. In her spare time, she loves sewing, cooking, gardening, and enjoys other performing arts, especially theatre. She also gives back to the community in a number of ways, including though “People Pillowcases,” a program she developed under People to People International. She organizes a small group of sewing volunteers who create around 200 cozy and cheerful flannel pillowcases every month that are given to foster children cared for by the L.A. County Department of Children of Family Services, another way she positively impacts the lives of others.
If you’d like to know more about how you can support CSUN students, we welcome the opportunity to help you shape your impact on future generations. Please contact Jarrod Eamon Fasching in the Curb College Development Office at for more information.