Skip to main content

Alumni Spotlight: James Roman

A Q&A with organist James Roman.

Q: What was the year and degree you received from The University of Houston’s College of the Arts? 

A: In 2020 I received a Certificate in Music Performance (organ) under the instruction of Professor Daryl Robinson. 

Q: Where has your [arts] career taken you since graduation? 

A: Like most artists in the COVID era, things are at a bit of a standstill at the moment, but I’m finally beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel! Concerts that I had on the calendar in 2020 are beginning to be rescheduled and there are even some new engagements that have come up as well. I was and still am very fortunate to be employed full-time at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church here in Houston all throughout my certificate program at UH. So, I’m lucky that my employment situation has not been negatively affected like many of my colleagues. That said, I’ve been fortunate to have several concert engagements put on the books and even had my first journal article published as a direct result of my time at UH! 

Q: Is there one thing that has surprised you about a career in the arts that you didn’t expect? 

A: Probably the amount of really amazing things that I get to do and be a part of on a regular basisIn my current position at St. Luke’s, over the course of a year, we’ll host world-renowned choral ensembles like Voces8 and Conspirare, have a 40-piece orchestra and full choir for our annual Christmas Festival, work with incredible composers and musicians like Howard Goodall James Whitbourn, and Bob Chilcott and offer ten or so musicals and plays through our theater program – just to name a few! I get to be a part of all those things in some form or another in addition to the “normal” part of my job. It’s easy to get swept up in all the details and take things for granted. There are days when I have to force myself to take a step back and appreciate what I get to do. Rarely do I have “another day at the office” and when I do, it’s usually a welcome break! I think when I first decided to become a musician, primarily a church musician, I expected a level of monotony – Sunday services, practice, weekly choir rehearsal, practice, wash, rinse, and repeat. Of course, I still do those things, but they are the tip of the iceberg. 

Q: What accomplishments in your career do you feel most proud of? 

A: To be honest, the fact that I’ve been able to make a career in music at all and that I have a job that I love. That right there is a huge accomplishment in my mind since many people don’t even make it this far. That aside, I am a huge advocate of new music. I believe that having new music written for the organ is just one way we can keep the instrument relevant and audiences engaged.  

I’ve been privileged to be able to commission quite a few pieces already. To date, I’ve commissioned 12 new pieces and I have no plans to stop! Most of these are either works for solo organ or soprano solo and organ since my wife, Grace, is a very talented soprano and we enjoy performing together.  

My latest large commission is a solo organ work by the British composer, James Whitbourn. The piece is called Apollo and is a musical narrative of NASA’s Apollo 8 mission using ancient Greek hymns of praise to the god Apollo as the thematic material. I gave the premiere here in Houston as part of the Space City New Music Festival and it was recently published by Oxford University Press. I’m very proud of the fact that I can contribute to the organ repertoire and help promote new music in this way. 

Q: Are there specific skills or things you learned at the McGovern College of the Arts that you find valuable in your career now? What are they? 

A: Certainly! Professor Robinson puts a lot of emphasis on collaborative music making whereas many music schools focus primarily on solo playing. For organists, sustaining a career based entirely on solo concerts and touring is almost impossible except for a very select few. The majority of organists, myself included, will work in a church setting where 95% of the job is collaborating and making music with others. So, the focus on creative hymn playing and learning how to more effectively accompany soloists and choral ensembles are hugely useful skills to learn. Of course, there was plenty of focus on solo playing too, but it was the equal combination of the two skill areas that rely on every day. 

Q: Has there been any press coverage that you would like to share? If so, list links in your answer with any helpful descriptions. 

A: For my final certificate recital I performed Jean Langlais’ Cinq Méditations sur l’Apocalypse (Five Meditations on the Apocalypse). This 40-minute solo organ work is rarely performed in its entirety and has been a bucket list item for me for quite some time. While in the process of learning it, I was in frequent contact with Marie-Louise Langlais, the widow of Jean Langlais. She herself is an accomplished organist and has performed the work several times. In my communication with her I learned a lot of first-hand background on the work, and additionally we began compiling a complete list of errata in the score which had previously not been done. As a result, I was able to write an article on the work that was recently published in Vox Humana, and online organ journal. 

Q: What is coming up for you in the future that we should watch for? 

A: I’m very excited that we’ve recently acquired a brand new Orgelkids USA kit at St. Luke’s. Orgelkids originated in the Netherlands and now has a presence in the United States as Orgelkids USA. The kit, which allows one to build a small, but fully functioning pipe organ, is designed to be an outreach tool specifically geared towards youth. However, I’ve found that it is just as fun and effective for adults! It has been a dream of mine to get one ever since I first heard of them and we were recently gifted a very generous donation at St. Luke’s that allowed us to commission a kit. It just so happens that this is the very first Orgelkids kit in Texas and we’re so lucky to have it here in Houston. So, as soon as we can safely gather in-person again, we’ll be rolling out a series of events to let people get their hands on it. It’s my hope that it will help foster love and interest in the pipe organ to those for whom it’s a bit of a mystery. Hopefully, it will even inspire a new generation of organists! I’m very excited to get that out into the public eye. Of course, you can also be on the lookout for some upcoming concerts with newly commissioned music as well! 

Q: What advice would you have for incoming students who are focusing on a career in the arts? 

A: Work hard, always be earlybe kind and supportive of your fellow artists, and be professional at all times. Do your best to be the kind of musician and colleague that you would want to work with. Finally, don’t just assume you have to be the absolute best to be successful. It’s amazing how far you can go by showing up to rehearsal ten minutes early, prepared, and with a smile on your face. 

Quote: Studying at the MSM helped prepare me for not only a successful, but practical career in music. The faculty, in particular Professor Robinson, and my fellow classmates were always so supportive and encouraging. They consistently went out of their way to help me get the most from my experience at the school. I formed strong relationships and connections that I continue to rely on today.