JMU School of Music January 2018 alumni newsletter



Happy New Year! We hope that you have had a wondrous Holiday Season and are embracing the New Year with excitement and hope. This is the second edition of the new School of Music newsletter. To those of you receiving this for the first time our goal is to keep you up to date with events at the JMU School of Music, spotlights on former faculty members, information on streaming concerts and other events that may be of interest to you, your colleagues and your students.

We would like this newsletter to reflect some of the aspects you are interested in reading about. Have an idea? We have a dedicated Music Alumni email that you can use to contact us! Let us know your thoughts, questions or just plain saying hello at musicalum@jmu.edu.

You can help us reach out to as many former Music students as we can by reaching out to alums that you know. Many are not connected to us by social media, so a quick phone call or email will bring an old friend together with the folks already connected. We would also like to encourage you to take a moment and “Send Us Your Story”! We’d love to hear what you have been up to since you left JMU, some fond memories, some funny memories or even how the School of Music has impacted your life.

School of Music Updates

In this edition, we want to update you of some new items of interest, and repeat a few to keep them “on your radar” for the coming months.

John Little Retires!

After 44 years, Dr. John Little is going to retire from the School of Music. Over his tenure at JMU John has taught countless voice students, directed operas, musicals and ensembles, been an academic advisor, served on innumerable committees, and even played tuba in the graduation band a couple times! We say a heartfelt THANKS and wish John a happy, well-deserved retirement!

Come join us on Monday, Feb. 26th at 8:00 p.m. in the Recital Hall (Forbes Center of the Performing Arts, JMU) for a special Tribute Concert for John Little!

National Presbyterian Church Concert

Over the past few years the School of Music has been presenting a concert at the beautiful National Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC. The Madison Singers, the Chorale and the Symphony Orchestra have all performed in this beautiful neo-gothic cathedral to enthusiastic audiences. We will once again be performing this concert on Sunday, February 18th at 4pm, and the concert will feature our choral ensembles and several of our instrumental chamber ensembles. JMU President Jonathan Alger will once again be the host and will provide greetings from your alma mater. If you live in the Washington Metropolitan area or are within an afternoon’s driving distance please plan on joining us in this concert put on by our outstanding young musicians and meet President Alger.

Junior Audition Clinic

For several years now the School of Music has hosted a free Junior Audition Clinic, giving current sophomores and juniors (freshmen are welcome too!) a chance to do a live, mock audition for our faculty. This experience helps to lessen the normal anxiety that goes along with an audition for entry into a university music program, or any audition for placement. Our faculty will do masterclasses covering topic such as auditioning, what to expect as a music major and general skills questions. Auditionees will learn what techniques/concepts they may wish to focus on in order to be successful. While we would be thrilled to have all of these young musicians elect to come to JMU, this audition is purely for the experience, and will be helpful to the student no matter what school they choose to attend. The date for this year’s Junior Audition Clinic is March 24, 2018. Pass it on!

Marching Royal Dukes

As many of you have heard, the Marching Royal Dukes have once again been invited back to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade for a fourth time in 2018. Mark your calendar to either be in New York to see the MRDs live or watch them on TV.

In addition to this honor, the MRDs once again travelled to Frisco, TX to support the JMU Football team in the FCS Championship game. While the team lost, the MRDs put on their usual exciting performance and cheered the team on to the last minute.

And if that isn’t enough, the MRDs were invited to march in the 73rd Virginia Governor’s Inaugural Parade on 13 January in Richmond, VA. The Dukes were one of six bands in the parade honoring Virginia’s new Governor, Dr. Ralph Northam.

Concert Livestreaming

Many of our concerts are now being streamed from the Concert Hall at the Forbes Center. We streamed seven concerts last semester, and have identified five concerts to present this semester. You can access these concerts by visiting this page. Come back to a concert though technology! Spring streamed concerts will be announced in January.

Piano Faculty to be Featured at Steinway Hall, NYC

Members of the JMU piano faculty (Gabriel Dobner, Lori Piitz, Eric Ruple, Paulo Steinberg) will be performing a concert at Steinway Hall, New York City, on Friday, March 2nd at 7:00 p.m. This concert is presented as a tribute to the late Terrance (Terry) Walsh, who was the JMU piano technician and longtime senior piano technician and North American Tonmiester (sound master) for Steinway & Sons. If you are interested in attending this free concert, please contact Jeff Bush.


James Kluesner

James Kluesner

James (Jim) Kluesner was the trumpet professor from 1981 until 2009 – a total of 28 years. We interviewed him to get this thoughts on his tenure at JMU:

When did you retire?


Where are you living now?

In May of 2017, we left Harrisonburg and moved to Spring Hill, FL.

What are you doing now?

Candy and I are still adjusting to our big move. We live in a beautiful community with a lot of activities and clubs and have been looking into how much we want to do. We are playing golf several times a week and recently joined the Educators Club so will be volunteering to help with a middle school band program in the area. Around the house, Candy is enjoying being able to garden year round and getting a new kitchen installed. I am doing yard work and learning how to maintain a pool. It's actually a lot of fun.

We are both playing in two community orchestras and looking for other opportunities to keep playing (possibly churches and shows). I still practice and play almost every day and really enjoy it.

What are your best memories of teaching at JMU?

The best memories are of the students. There really was (and probably still is) the " JMU student". Early on, in the 1980"s, that was someone who wasn't the First Chair All-State player but someone who was just as talented but hadn't had the opportunities of an outstanding high school program or of private lessons. We tried to identify that talent but also find students who were motivated to work hard and were good people to work with. At the end of undergraduate studies, many of these students were able to compete nationally as performers, educators, and in music industry. In the 1990's, as JMU became more popular, the background of students changed a bit but we still were looking for talented hard-workers looking to improve and reach the highest level possible for them.

As a studio teacher, I worked with a smaller group but I also really enjoyed being a Freshman Academic Adviser. I got to meet about half of the freshman class each year and to follow their development throughout their four years of undergraduate study (OK so maybe it was 4 1/2, 5 or even 6 years but who's counting at this point)!

I also have great memories of working with my colleagues on the faculty. We generally had the sames goals and vision and were able to work through any disagreements and administrative hurdles to keep the big picture in mind and work together to improve.

What advice or words of wisdom do you have for alums?

I really can't think of anything profound. I believe that JMU students are as well prepared when they graduate as anyone in the country. If I did a good job as a teacher, I should have provided students with fundamental ideas and concepts that should allow them to deal with new and challenging situations and resolve them successfully. I know that my teaching colleagues, past and present, strive toward the same goals and I believe that the JMU School of Music, as it has evolved in the last 35 years, provides the atmosphere and support for students to excel in whatever goals that they pursue.

I loved teaching at JMU and am so happy to follow the currents successes of the SOM and also to be in contact with so many former students who have become good friends.


Mahler’s epic Second Symphony does no less than confront the meaning of life, death and even what lies beyond mortality. Subtitled the “Resurrection”, this monumental work calls for a huge orchestra of well over a hundred instrumentalists both on and off the stage, an enormous choir, and two soaring solo voices. During its nearly 90 minute span, the piece offers a breadth of emotions from shatteringly dramatic moments to reflective passages of transcendent beauty.

Students from the JMU Symphony Orchestra, Madison Singers, and Chorale will join together with the choir and orchestra from the Governors School of the Arts in Norfolk to bring Mahler’s epic Symphony No.2 to life. Performances will take place on Saturday April 21 at 7:30PM at the Sandler Center for the Arts in Virginia Beach. and at 4:00PM on Sunday April 22 at the Forbes Center for the Arts on the JMU campus. JMU Director of Orchestras Foster Beyers will share the conducting duties with Jeff Phelps, conductor of the GSA Orchestra while Jo-Anne Van der Vat Chromy, JMU Director of Choral Activities, and Stephen Cook from the Governor’s School will collaborate to prepare the choirs.

Beyers recalls how the idea for this partnership began.

“I visited the Governor’s School for the Arts in December of 2016 in order to become acquainted with a program that was by all accounts, an excellent one. I had lunch with their director Jeff Phelps and we hit it off right away. We began talking about repertoire and collaborations he had done in the recent past and he mentioned wistfully that he would love to do Mahler 2 someday. After lunch I visited his rehearsal and was mesmerized hearing the GSA students master Lutoslawski’s 4th Symphony, a very difficult and complex work not typically undertaken by a high school orchestra. I knew then that not only would Mahler 2 be possible but it could be a very special, possibly once in a lifetime opportunity to perform this fantastic masterwork. As soon as I returned to Harrisonburg I spoke to my wonderful colleague Jo-Anne Van der Vat Chromy who enthusiastically agreed to include the Chorale and Madison Singers in this project and we were off and running!”

Before the Mahler, each concert will open with a special performance by the JMU Chorale and The Madison Singers under the direction of Dr. Van der Vat-Chromy. In order to give special perspective and context to themes of the Mahler, Dr. Van der Vat-Chromy has chosen to include two works by Italian/Swiss composer Ivo Anognini, War and Peace.

Don’t miss this opportunity to see and hear 250 young performers join together for this visceral and vivid work. Tickets for the Virginia Beach performance on April 21 can be obtained by visiting Showtix4u.com or at the door. Tickets for the Forbes Center performance can be obtained by visiting the box office or via the web at http://www.jmu.edu/forbescenter/.


Raiquan Thomas – Voice

Major: Music Performance

Raiquan Thomas

Raiquan has always loved to sing, but when his operatic talent emerged, his focus changed. The Vocal Performance and Music Industry major from Portsmouth, Virginia, hopes to inspire others — especially kids in his hometown’s Boys and Girls Club. The William T. and Mildred F. Van Dyck Scholarship recipient appreciates his donors’ commitment: “I wouldn’t be here without them.”

It was JMU alumna Susan Heely ('75), his high-school chorus teacher, who encouraged Thomas to sing classical music and audition for the Governor's School for the Arts. "I was scared," Thomas recalls. The prestigious school attracted young people who were totally unlike his neighborhood friends. He remembers going to the audition, looking at the pool of talent and saying to himself, "I'm different from these people."

Another Madison alumna, Shelly Milam-Ratliff ('06), was Thomas' voice teacher at the governor's school. "Without her, I would not be here," he says.

Impressed by the quality of the Madison alumnae who had coached and trained him, Thomas was drawn to consider JMU's undergraduate music program. "When I met [voice professor] Kevin McMillan, it clicked. I'm supposed to be here," he says.

He credits McMillan with grooming his raw talent for singing. "He has taught me how to perfect my craft.” We're constantly working on the voice. He knew what I could do, but I didn't know what I could do. Today, there's a big difference in my voice because he taught me how to manage it."

"At many conservatories, there is an extremely competitive environment," he acknowledges. "But at JMU there's an atmosphere of support, a desire for everyone to get opportunities. It has helped me grow as an artist, concentrating on my craft, not on the competition."

The first of his family to attend a four-year college, Thomas is thankful for the scholarship support he has received at Madison. "Having that makes me work 10 times harder. I want to make a difference. It's an amazing gift."

His advice to others: "Work hard, stay humble. You never know what opportunities may come your way."

After graduation, Thomas plans to either go to graduate school for vocal performance or work for the music industry, hoping to one day become an A&R.

Thomas is thriving in Madison's vibrant and supportive atmosphere. "JMU is different. Dukes stick together. There is always someone to support you. People will help out whenever they can. It's like another world.”

Check out a short video interview with Mr. Thomas:


JMU Giving Day is March 13, 2018

James Madison University is holding its annual Giving Day on Tuesday, March 13! Mark your calendar and make your gift to the JMU College of Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA) on that day and all gifts will go directly to scholarship for Music and other CVPA students. This is a big day for JMU and the School of Music where students, alumni, faculty and friends of our school come together to make a difference in the education of our students.

Watch for updates on Giving Day to see how your gift is impacting the future of JMU!

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