Steven Banks

Saxophonist. Educator. Inclusion Advocate.

"To play a wrong note is insignificant; to play without passion is inexcusable"

- Ludwig van Beethoven




Joel Thompson (b.1988) is an Atlanta-based composer, pianist, conductor, and educator. His recent orchestration of Seven Last Words of the Unarmed was premiered February 2017 by the University of Michigan Men’s Glee Club and the Sphinx Orchestra under the direction of Dr. Eugene Rogers. Recently, Thompson was a composition fellow at the Aspen Music Festival and School where he studied with composers Stephen Hartke and Christopher Theofanidis. Thompson is currently a 2017 post-graduate fellow in Arizona State University’s Ensemble Lab/Projecting All Voices Initiative. Thompson taught at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School in Atlanta 2015-2017, and also served as Director of Choral Studies and Assistant Professor of Music at Andrew College 2013-2015. Thompson is a proud Emory alum, graduating with a B.A. in Music in 2010, and an M.M. in Choral Conducting in 2013. His teachers include Eric Nelson, William Ransom, Laura Gordy, Richard Prior, John Anthony Lennon, Kevin Puts, Robert Aldridge, and Scott Stewart.


About the concerto for Baritone Saxophone and Chamber orchestra

I was first introduced to Joel Thompson's music when the Sphinx Symphony Orchestra programmed his piece, Seven Last Words of the Unarmed, at the SphinxConnect 2017 conference. I was blown away by his writing, and by his courage to address such an important social, cultural and political issue like police brutality.

Joel told me that his philosophy of composition is that every piece he writes needs to start a conversation or a transformation. As classical musicians, we are constantly searching for relevance in our careers. What better way to find relevance than to use our art to express and explore the issues that are on all of our hearts and minds?

Upon reaching out to Joel, he immediately knew that he wanted to write a baritone saxophone concerto. The struggle for acceptance on stage as a solo instrument with a full range of expressive capabilities mirrors the constant struggle for humanization that minorities, particularly African-Americans, have faced in the United States for many years. I also identified strongly with this because one of my foremost career goals is to be a leading champion of substantial new baritone saxophone repertoire.

In the days of slavery, black people were valued because of their property value and ability to provide free labor to support the economy. The 13th amendment, which abolished slavery, also created a loophole in what was an otherwise great thing. Today, we see this loophole being exploited in the prison industrial complex. There have consistently been efforts, obvious and subtle, throughout the 20th and 21st centuries to keep minorities unfairly imprisoned so that this free labor could be lawfully maintained for economic reasons.

The Thirteenth Amendment of the United states constitution

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.


This inequality has made it difficult for minorities to be valued for their humanity and rich cultural communities. It keeps them from being viewed as incredibly complete and complex beings as they should. The baritone saxophone must also be given a chance to legitimize itself as an instrument capable of a diverse array of nuanced music making. 

This multi-movement concerto will be approximately 20-25 minutes long, and will fulfill Joel's mission to create music that will start a conversation or spark a transformation.


WOrk Samples

Seven last words of the unarmed

Dreams: a recitative and aria for satb Chorus




Seven Last Words of the Unarmed

2015 - November: UMMGC @ Hill Auditorium, Ann Arbor, MI

2016 - January: MLK Symposium - UMMGC @ Hill Auditorium, Ann Arbor, MI

          March: Intercollegiate Men’s Chorus Convention - UMMGC @ Krannert Center Urbana-Champaign, IL

2017 - January: MLK Concert - Boston Children’s Chorus @ Jordan Hall, Boston, MA

           February: Sphinx 20th Anniversary Gala Concert - UMMGC and the Sphinx Orchestra @  Orchestra Hall, Detroit, MI

           June: PRIZM Final Concert - PRIZM Ensemble @ Clayborn Temple, Memphis, TN


Dreams: a recitative and aria for SATB Chorus

2016 - September: Fall Concert - Atlanta Master Chorale @ Schwartz Center, Atlanta, GA


Fantasy for Piano Quintet

2017 - April: Emory Alumni Chamber Music Concert @ Emory Performing Arts Studio, Atlanta, GA