Giving Back. Fond Reflections of a Recent Viola Student

Spring 2014 music minor alumnus takes significant step to support MSU College of Music.

James Miller on the campus of Stanford University.

The first order of business for MSU Alumnus James Miller when he opened his new bank account was to write two checks that signified his passion for music. 

“My first was for a private viola lesson over Thanksgiving break,” says Miller. “My second was to support the College of Music at MSU.”

Miller recently graduated from MSU with a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering and minors in agronomy and music. In the fall, he began his graduate studies in mechanical engineering at Stanford University. Like he did at MSU, he kept his heart in music, auditioning and earning spots as a violist with the Stanford Symphony Orchestra and the Stanford Baroque Soloist program.

The Ann Arbor native says it was hard to choose between engineering and music when he was in high school and deciding on colleges. While he ultimately took the scientific route, he continued his musical journey by earning a minor in music at MSU.

“When I came to MSU, I was really excited because I knew they had a renowned violist on staff,” says Miller. “At orientation, I made sure I was on the audition list.”

Miller started taking viola lessons with Yuri Gandelsman, professor of viola, his very first week on campus. He continued with Gandelsman throughout his senior year.

“I have had the immense pleasure of knowing James for the last four years. He is a very bright young man, who is passionately in love with music,” says Gandelsman. “His sincere joy of music making has been an inspiration to me and my students. There is no doubt in my mind that he will lead a successful life, whatever he may choose to do.”

When he wasn’t focused on science, Miller put all his discretionary time into music through lessons, coursework, and as a violist in the MSU Symphony Orchestra led by Kevin Noe, MSU director of orchestras and graduate orchestral conducting.

“It never felt like work for me,” says Miller. “It was something I really enjoyed and it freed up my mind for other endeavors.”

Miller says the positive memories of his musical times at MSU reinforced his decision to support both MSU’s viola studio and the MSU Orchestra’s endowed fund in honor of Leon Gregorian.

“It was the first point in my life when I could give back,” says Miller. “It felt good to be able to support and show my respect to faculty and programs at the College of Music.” 

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