“My dear Headmaster Barr, things have really gone too far / I remind you that this child has got two parents! / Beginning now, henceforth, today, ad infinitum, / Please alternate the calls about our son and his behavior.”
“My behavior didn’t improve,” Jim told NPR’s Nina Totenberg. “But somehow the calls became much more infrequent when they had to consider bothering a man about my behavior.” SCHERZO “GDS was a whole new world for me,” Jim explained. “It was so intimate, and my classmates were so amazing. I loved the informal atmosphere, and I thought it was wonderful being on a first-name basis with my teachers.” Jim came alive at GDS: he joined the math team under coach Joe Wolfson, Model U.N. with teacher Gary Nicolai, studied art history with Janet Hahn, and wrote English papers that still bring him pride today. Long-time English teacher John Burghardt remembers Jim being “alive to the text from the start. A student who was one of the live minds in the room. I also remember him being an eerily good piano player.” Jim and his family lived in the Watergate, across from the Kennedy Center, and between there and GDS, his music life thrived. In September 1981, the National Symphony Orchestra gave a tribute concert on what would have been the 75th birthday of Dmitri Shostakovich. It was a turning point for Jim. “He was a composer I was completely unfamiliar with, and it was a life-changing experience,” Jim recalled. “The music was like nothing I’d heard before. I became fascinated—even obsessed—with Shostakovich. I started going to the library to gather every record I could find of his music.” Jim carried Shostakovich with him, weaving his music into his time at GDS. After taking a music history class at GDS with Terri (Williams) Surabian during his junior year, Jim taught the class in his senior year—with a new two-week unit on Shostakovich. “Back then,” Jim explained, “there were still a lot of critics who had turned up their noses at Shostakovich as being too romantic or a soviet realist. They didn’t understand the true nature and genius of his music. Today, he’s one of the most popular 20th century composers. I like to think I was on the leading edge of that.” “In my 15 years teaching at GDS, I don’t believe I ever had a student who loved classical music as much as James did,” Terri wrote in a recent reflection. “One of my favorite
memories of James, however, was his role as emcee for our High School concert featuring the music of P.D.Q. Bach [the fictional composer created by musical satirist Peter Schickele]. James, of course, wrote a well-researched script, full of corny jokes, and appeared in the loudest plaid jacket you can imagine. James won my heart not only with his passion for classical music, but also with his endearing sense of humor. At the same time, James had an extraordinarily advanced knowledge of musical form, style, and repertoire. Add to this his genuine delight in the music of masters such as Mozart, Schubert, and Beethoven and you had a scholarly, dynamic, and funny musicologist.” Then, as is the case for many GDS alumni, the passions developed while at GDS continued into adulthood. Even as Jim started to pursue the law, his pursuit of classical music continued in counterpoint. LARGO Always, it seemed, classical music conspired to keep Jim close. While at the University of Chicago as an undergrad, Jim worked as a classical DJ for the mixed-format campus radio station WHPK and eventually ran the format. Then, serendipitously, during the second week of Jim’s summer internship at Nonesuch Records, the office secretary was promoted to sales at the parent company Elektra Records. “For two and a half months, I was the secretary,” Jim recalled. “Everything went through my desk, and I really got a sense of how to run a record label.” “[While reviewing for the magazine American Record Guide after college] I began to notice the difference between a recording that was well-produced or not, realizing it was the recording that could make a difference,” he said. Jim at long last set about to try his hand at producing. While preparing to return to the University of Chicago for law school, he connected with an engineer friend working part-time at WFMT, Chicago’s classical radio station. As Jim considered whom to record, the friend “started sending me tapes of live broadcasts, and I very quickly settled on the Russian emigree pianist Dmitri Paperno.” In the fall of 1989, Jim’s first album was released. It found distribution right away, and Jim found himself creating a classical music label and beginning law school simultaneously—he chose music, leaving behind law school after one year. For the first time, classical music took the lead melody in his life. From day one, Cedille has been devoted to recording and promoting Chicago’s finest classical musicians to a worldwide audience.
G EO RG ET O W N D AYS S PRI N G 2019