A concert pianist focused on music history and education, with a particular interest in the work of Johannes Brahms, R. Aileen James, DMA, was a child piano prodigy. She recalls growing up and living in a small town in Tennessee, where her father would come home and play hymns on a Chickering Spinet piano. At just 2 years old, she would sit beside him and play the melody portion of the song. By 3 years old, she began playing with both hands. In a nearby town, there was a woman who graduated with a degree in piano. The woman had a class for preschool students and Dr. James’ mother enrolled her in the class. For her first piano recital, the other children had played pieces that they had previously practiced and rehearsed. Since she was still fairly new, she had not gotten that far to memorize a piece. In turn, she improvised her part in the recital. In response, her teacher was so impressed that she asked Dr. James’ mother if had she been taught it.
Serving as a private piano teacher since 1959, Dr. James began her professional career as an assistant professor of music at Pacific Union College in Angwin, California, in 1969, remaining in this position for five years before becoming a teaching assistant at Stanford University from 1976 to 1980. During this time, she also served as an associate professor of music at Santa Clara University from 1978 to 1982. Following this tenure, she was the artistic director for the American Pianists Association in Indianapolis from 1986 to 1997. In addition, Dr. James was a guest lecturer at the Butler University Pedagogy Clinic in Indianapolis between 1995 and 1996.
As a performer, Dr. James made her public performance debut in 1945 at the age of 8, later making her professional piano debut in Los Angeles at 16 years old in 1953. Concertized as a soloist and accompanist in chamber music throughout the United States, Central America, Austria and France since 1954, she makes a point to write program notes for each concert she performs. Mae Gilbert Reese taught Dr. James from the ages 9 to 16 years old. Ms. Reese was credited as the best teacher she has ever had. She was inspired by Ms. Reese’s teaching style and the attention that she gave to her students. She tries to emulate Ms. Reese’s methodology in her teaching to this day. Ms. Reese suggested that if she ever moves to northern California, she should study with Adolph Baler at Stanford University, which she eventually went on to do. Another teacher in Berkeley, California, named Julian White is also credited as one of her best teachers.
Prior to the start of her professional career, Dr. James pursued a formal education at Pacific Union College, earning a Bachelor of Arts in 1958 and Master of Arts in piano/music history in 1969. She then matriculated at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, where she completed postgraduate coursework in 1973. She went on to obtain a Doctor of Musical Arts from Stanford University in 1981 at age 44. Additionally, Dr. James is a certified music teacher in the state of California.
Active in her local community, Dr. James was the educational chairman of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra from 1986 to 1989 and president of the Independent Presenters Network from 1995 to 1996. Likewise, she served on the board of directors for the Twin Cities Concert Association from 1997 to 2014, now known as InConcert Sierra, of which she also served as vice president. Dr. James also served on the board of Music in the Mountains and conducts a monthly class for “adults who don’t want to perform” between the months of September and June, which consists of 10 members in her home.
To keep updated on trends in her field, Dr. James maintains involvement with the Music Teachers National Association, the American College of Musicians and Pi Kappa Lambda. A recipient of the coveted Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award, she was awarded a Key to the City of Indianapolis in 1995 and was named an honorary citizen in 1997. Today, Dr. James is the proud mother of three wonderful children, Thomas, Tamara and Teresa, and has been known to enjoy traveling, reading and participating in the culinary arts in her spare time.