Meet Tom Dempster — Composer, Educator, & Assistant Editor of Music at Jasper Magazine

Tom Dempster
Tom Dempster

Thomas Dempster is a composer writing predominantly chamber, electroacoustic, and multimedia works. With over 70 completed works to his name, his output ranges from solo miniatures to extended works for orchestra with soloists. His music bears accessible yet decidedly individualistic traits, from tonal references to extended techniques, from touching on classical forms to experimental soundscapes and video works.

His music has been performed widely throughout North America and Europe, including GEMDays (UK), Di_Stanze (Italy), Toronto Intenational Electroacoustic Symposium, the San Francisco New Music Festival, Electronic Music Midwest, Electroacoustic Barn Dance, NYCEMF, University of Kentucky new Music Festival, ICMC, the Indiana State University Music Now! Series, SEAMUS, Society of Composers Inc., College Music Society, the National Flute Association, the North American Saxophone Alliance, and numerous others. Dempster is a recipient of awards, honors, and grants from BMI, ASCAP, the South Carolina Arts Commission, Sigma Alpha Iota, Ithaca College, Black House Collective, Vox Novus, and the Columbia (SC) Museum of Art. Among the commissions he has received are those from the Greenbrook Ensemble, the Blue Mountain Ensemble, the Governor’s School of North Carolina, the Ohio State University New Music Ensemble, and others. Several of his works are commercially available from Potenza Music Publishing. He is an affiliate composer of Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI)

Dempster serves as an Assistant Professor of Music at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg, SC, where he teaches courses in music technology, composition and theory, and music business. He directs the BulldogBytes Concert Series at SC State, an annual concert series devoted to experimental and digital music. He is an assistant editor with Jasper magazine (Columbia, SC), a contributor to the new music digest I Care If You Listen, and an album reviewer for the Society for Electroacoustic Music in the United States (SEAMUS). He has given lectures on musical aesthetics, intellectual property issues, and musical analysis at CMS, NYCEMF, and SCMEA conferences. He studied at the University of Texas (MM, DMA) with Kevin Puts, Dan Welcher, and Russell Pinkston, and at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (BM) with Eddie Bass, Craig Walsh, and Frank McCarty. He studied bassoon with Michael Burns, has performed with many orchestras throughout the Southeast, and is a proponent of extended performance techniques for the bassoon.

Dempster resides in the Columbia area with his wife, visual artist Kara Gunter. When not teaching, composing, bassooning, or otherwise musicking, Dempster can be found tending to his lush front yard gardens or thumbing through the various books that have taken over his house. Some weekends he can be found searching the state for either the perfect shrimp and grits or the best curry. Visit his website at

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A Soda City Love Letter from Emile DeFelice

This love letter to the city appeared this morning on the Huffington Post’s blog. It’s a lovely piece that captures the way so many of us feel about our city, to which I would only add that we have an arts community that rivals and will soon surpass any other city in the Southeast. Lots of folks seem to want to compare us to Austin — and that’s nice. Austin is a very nice town. But we aren’t Austin — we’re our own city. We are Columbia.

And this is Emile — and he’s running for office.


Dear Columbia, or as I like to call you, Soda City,

It’s been 23 years since I was dropped off at your doorstep with only a suitcase, a box and not much to offer. You quickly became one of the best things that ever happened to me.

Within days, you gave me three restaurant jobs throughout your Five Points. I worked the breakfast shift at what is now Drip Coffee, lunch at the Gourmet Shop and dinner at Garibaldi’s. You gave me the opportunity to attend grad school at the University of South Carolina. You gave me my first home, a small and sturdy in-town house for $39,000, on which I made many monthly payments of $332 by selling vegetables I grew in the back yard. You gave me a neighbor who loved me like a son. You gave me Chris the Postman who sees the overdraft notice come in one day and texts me the next when he has a few checks for me in his bag.

You gave my two children great educational opportunities. One grew up in the (three!) ballet companies here and is headed to Yale after a dance stint in D.C., and the other is spending her tenth grade year in Spain on her own volition.

You gave me great mentors and people to look up to and emulate, and I take great pleasure in returning the favor to help folks get up the ladder. You gave me newspapers that are small enough to listen and engage with me, yet large enough to matter. You gave me racial and international diversity. You gave me a business atmosphere that had plenty of opportunities for me to fill in the missing pieces with my own ideas. You gave me a city filled with people who are ready for good things to happen and who give people that try a chance.

You have a vibrant Main Street with my favorite dive bar, The Whig. I can take the family to dinner for less than $50 out on Decker Boulevard at my favorite Korean restaurant, Arirang, or hit up Real Mexico for lunch – Cubano, please! You help me relax with killer cocktails at Motor Supply, The Oak Table – and oh yeah, thanks for the 150 bourbons to choose from at Bourbon! We sneak away to the Nickelodeon for great indie movies and hit the amazing Three Rivers Greenway when we want to get out and move our bodies. You give me everything I want and need. I lack for nothing. You are the most underrated and misunderstood town in the South, the gangly girl who’s growing into a great beauty.

I’ve done my level best to give back even more than you’ve given me, and after it’s all over, I hope you think I’m one of the best things that ever happened to you.


Emile DeFelice loves food, the challenges of farming and business, and finding ways to connect farmers and feeders. He founded the All Local Farmer’s Market in 2004, now called Soda City, featuring dozens of farmers, food, and artisans from Columbia every Saturday morning on Main Street. Emile grew vegetables and produced specialty pork at his nationally-acclaimed Caw Caw Creek Farm for nearly 20 years before recently redirecting his attention to Soda City and a brick and mortar version of the market, Nest. His efforts earned him a fellowship award by the Southern Foodways Alliance. He serves on the board of the Animal Mission and co-founded Columbia’s Mardi Gras Festival, from which 100% of the profit goes toward the Mission’s spay and neuter program.

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“King Lear” in Finlay Park – a review by Jillian Owens

The South Carolina Shakespeare Company opens their fall season with King Lear, one of Shakespeare’s best-known tragedies. George Bernard Shaw once said “No man will ever write a better tragedy than Lear,”  and one can definitely see where he’s coming from. Madness, betrayal, suffering, war, and death are all over this play, and the body count is nothing short of impressive.


The elderly King Lear (Chris Cook) is ready for retirement. He plans to divide his kingdom among his  three daughters, Goneril (Raia Hirsch), Regan (Sara Blanks), and Cordelia (Katie Mixon.) But there’s  a catch: the largest quantity of land will go to the daughter who can prove she loves him most. Goneril  and Regan are perfectly happy to deliver speeches of loyalty and devotion that drip with aspartame. But  Cordelia remains stoic, saying she has nothing to compare her love to. Her frankness leads to her father  disowning her and splitting his lands between Regan and Goneril. The King of France, impressed with her honesty offers to marry her:

“Fairest Cordelia, that art most rich, being poor; most choice, forsaken;  and most lov’d, despis’d!  Thee and thy virtues here I seize upon. Be it lawful I take up what’s cast  away.”

And they hop off to France.

Chris Cook as King Lear
Chris Cook as King Lear

Lear quickly learns how fickle filial loyalty can be. As soon as he relinquishes his power, he loses all  respect from both of his daughters. They chide him for being raucous, and force him to let the majority of  his entourage go. This shocking fall from power and dignity leads Lear to become more and more insane as the play progresses. The former King quickly learns that his only true friends are his now-disguised former pal Kent (Tracy Steele) whom he banished for defending Cordelia, and his Fool (played by Jeff Driggers.)

Intermingled in this main plot is further drama with a troublemaking illegitimate son by the name of  Edmund (Bobby Bloom) to the Earl of Gloucester (Richard Purday.) He tricks Gloucester – way too easily – into thinking his legitimate son Edgar (William Cavitt) plans to steal his estate.   Eyeballs are removed, women are seduced, and lots of folks die in some pretty creative ways.

Katie Mixon (center) as Cordelia - photo by Gerilyn Browning Kim
Katie Mixon (center) as Cordelia – photo by Gerilyn Browning Kim

In this production of Lear, director Linda Khoury has assembled a large cast with varying skill levels and a  curious array of accents. Cook is a vulnerable and powerful Lear, and he captures his descent into madness with an intensity that evokes sympathy. Hirsh and Blanks are appropriately evil as Goneril  and Regan, and Mixon makes for a wonderful contrast as the honest and sincere Cordelia.  Edmund gets some of the best lines in the play, and Bloom delivers them with acerbic intensity:

“Wherefore should I stand in the plague of custom, and  permit the curiosity of nations to deprive me, for that I am some twelve or fourteen moonshines lag of  a brother? Why bastard? wherefore base?”

Driggers plays the Fool (see what I did there?) not so much as a clown, but as a terrified young man who grasps  the gravity of a dangerous situation from which he must save his friend. There’s an urgency about this Fool that is an unexpected take on the character. Cavitt delivers one of the most challenging and high-energy  performances in the play as the selfless, though hopelessly naive, Edgar.

Richard Purday and Chris Cook - photo by Rob Sprankle
Richard Purday and Chris Cook – photo by Rob Sprankle

A few members of the ensemble couldn’t quite pick an accent – which was distracting – but as I said  before, this is a large cast and every actor’s performance can’t always be golden. At the preview performance I attended, there was a moment of nudity that I’m not altogether sure was simply a wardrobe  malfunction. I can’t imagine bringing small children to something as heavy as a Shakespearean  tragedy, however, so this might not be an issue for you. The key players do interesting work, and the SC  Shakespeare Company takes a straightforward interpretation of King Lear to a few surprisingly creative  places.

~ Jillian Owens

King Lear runs Wednesday, October 22 through Saturday, October 25 in the Amphitheatre in Finlay Park. Curtain is at 7:30 PM, and the Wednesday performance is free!  For more information, visit .


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