Commencement Speaker for Spring 2016 Inspires

New York orchestra administrator named distinguished alumni for College of Music, shares insights for 21st century careers with entrepreneurial message.

Graduation ceremonies were held at the Wharton Center for Performing Arts, commemorating the accomplishments of more than 90 students from the College of Music.
After the ceremony, Dean Forger, James R. Roe and MSU Trustee Brian Breslin pause for a photo.
James Roe was named the 2016 distinguished alumni of the MSU College of Music.
College of Music graduates listen to James Roe talk about living and working as a 21st century musician.
A group of graduate students take a moment to commemorate their day with a photo at the Sparty Statue.

James Roe paid for his first oboe and college tuition by picking cherries in Northern Michigan in the 1980s. Today, he manages a versatile and distinguished orchestra in New York City.

In May 2016, the accomplished musician, arts administrator, and current president and executive director of the Orchestra of St. Luke’s received the Distinguished Alumni Award from the MSU College of Music. Roe will be recognized during the College’s annual commencement and serve as this year’s speaker.

“All my life I have followed music wherever it led. When I graduated from MSU, it was not entirely clear where that would be,” says Roe. “It is such an honor to be acknowledged by the University at this point in my journey.”

Roe began playing oboe professionally at the age of 15 in his hometown of Traverse City and was recruited by MSU in the mid-1980s. After graduating with his bachelor’s of music in 1989, he went on to earn his master’s in music from The Juilliard School. Falling in love with New York, he made the city his home, and pursued a multi-faceted career in music and arts administration. In 2013, he transitioned to full time orchestra management.

“Jim’s successful and eclectic background and his ability to move from a performer to executive administration is emblematic of the skill set needed by musicians today,” says James Forger, Dean of the College of Music. “He is truly an outstanding MSU Spartan at the top of his field.”

Roe says he never expected to be a top administrator in the musical arts. In fact, there were times when he was filled with self-doubt, even questioning his abilities as an oboist, particularly when he first started college.

“Moving to East Lansing and joining an international student body of what was then 40,000 students opened new doors for me,” he says. “I met young people from around the globe who had completely different world views from mine own. The standard of excellence expected at MSU showed me just how much work I had to do.”

Those first collegiate experiences, Roes says, encouraged him to grow. He learned to balance the desire to bring great art to audiences with the hard work necessary to achieve that—a life skill he says that propelled him to undertake the challenge of running 21st century performing arts organizations.

“Whether performing in a concert hall or a classroom or a community center, when I see people’s reaction to the beauty of live music, it is clear that all the effort is worth it,” Roe says. “Being a Spartan helped me get there. MSU is where I learned the power of harnessing aspiration and grit.”

Although Roe was only on campus briefly in May, he says his impressions were confirmed regarding the creativity, passion, and drive of College of Music students, faculty, and administration—as well as all MSU Spartans.

“It was enriching for me as well to meet and interact with musicians who have just graduated,” he says. “I was inspired by their point-of-view and their perceptions of the current culture and careers.”

The College of Music has invited Roe to return to campus in Fall 2016 to facilitate career readiness workshops through their Running Start Program. If he has one overarching message for music students today, it is to remain nimble, feed one’s creative intellect, and be prepared to be stewards of one’s own career.

“If you face your challenges this mindset,” says Roe, “your path will be fulfilling and you will make a positive difference in your communities.” 

James Roe was named president and executive director of the Orchestra of St. Luke’s in New York City in December 2015. At OSL, Roe will guide the future direction of one of America’s most distinguished orchestras and its home, The DiMenna Center for Classical Music.

Preceding his appointment to St. Luke’s, Roe served as president and CEO of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra from 2013-2015. During his tenure, the NJSO increased its philanthropic and corporate support, expanded its cultural partnerships around the state, and enjoyed growth in concert attendance and earned revenue.

Before joining administrative leadership at NJSO, Roe was the executive and artistic director of The Helicon Foundation—a New York City chamber music series. Audience growth and expansion of performance activities were hallmarks of his leadership.

In his career as an oboist, Roe served as acting principal oboe of the NJSO for two years and performed with numerous New York City orchestras and ensembles, including OSL. Roe earned his master’s degree from The Juilliard School and his bachelor’s degree in music from Michigan State University.

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