For Immediate Release – April 20, 2004


GENESEO, N.Y. – In recognition of his reputation as an important American composer, James Willey, Distinguished Teaching Professor of Music Emeritus at the State University of New York at Geneseo, will receive an honorary Doctor of Music degree from SUNY at Geneseo’s 138th commencement on Saturday, May 8. Willey will also deliver the commencement address "Lifetime Loyalties Amidst a Lifetime of Change" at the 10 a.m. ceremony.

U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., will also take part in the ceremony to offer congratulations and greetings to the graduating students and their families.

Geneseo’s commencement will be held in a new location this year: on the site of the "B" parking lot on campus, adjacent to South Hall, just off of Park Street/College Drive between Main Street and Route 63. Approximately 1,200 undergraduates will receive their diplomas during the exercises, and approximately 50 graduate students will receive master’s degrees.

SUNY will honor Willey for his body of work as a composer and his dedication as a teacher and mentor to young composers.

According to SUNY Geneseo President Christopher C. Dahl, Willey possesses a wide-ranging intellect, and has been an articulate spokesman for music. "He is an important American composer whose works have been performed by highly regarded ensembles in prestigious concert halls and directed by internationally known conductors," he said. "His status in the national music community has been recognized by several respected organizations, including the Yaddo Arts Colony in Saratoga Springs and the National Endowment for the Arts.

"In addition, Jim has been a much-beloved faculty member at Geneseo, and has made a tremendous impact as a teacher and mentor to young musicians in his almost 40 years at Geneseo."

Born in Lynn, Mass., in 1939, Willey began composing at an early age. He attended the Eastman School of Music, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1961, a master’s in 1963, and his Ph.D. in Music Theory and Composition in 1972. In 1964, he went on to the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood, where he studied with Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Gunther Schuller. Willey began his teaching career at SUNY Geneseo in 1966, received the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1978, and was awarded the rank of Distinguished Teaching Professor in 1990. He retired from the college in 2000.

Dr. Willey has compiled an impressive record of compositions, recordings and publications, and has continued to compose and present premiers of new works since his retirement. Many of his compositions have been premiered or performed in prestigious venues, including Carnegie Hall, Tanglewood Music Center, Steinway Hall, the Smithsonian Opera House and the Seattle Opera House. His works have been programmed by several conductors of international reputation, including David Zinman, former conductor of the Rotterdam, Baltimore and Rochester Philharmonic Orchestras, and Mark Elder, music director of the Halle Orchestra and former director of the English National Opera.

Willey’s works have been performed by a wide range of ensembles, including the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, the RPO, the Seattle Symphony, the Baltimore Symphony, the Minnesota Orchestra, the Esterhazy Quartet and the Tremont String Quartet. His place in American music has also been recognized by his peers in the academy; his works have been performed at academic institutions and music academies across the country, including the Eastman School of Music, Ithaca College, Boston University, Williams College, Syracuse University, Michigan State University and the University of Miami.

In support of his nomination for an honorary degree, Christopher Rouse, winner of the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for Music and the 2002 Grammy Award for Best Composer, wrote: "(Willey’s work) has a special combination of imaginativeness and craft…his is music that demonstrates both expressive intensity and well-defined technique." Composer Sydney Hodkinson describes Willey as "a remarkably talented and original voice in music composition in America (whose) fusion of contemporary compositional practices with his own New England roots is unique, producing classical works of emotional power, wit, pathos, and depth that place him above those of his generation." And music critic Andrew Porter wrote the following about Willey’s String Quartet No. 3 in the New Yorker in 1984: "It’s a fresh, worthwhile piece, in one movement — lasting about fifteen minutes — with six clear sections. And it’s very well written…the popular elements and sublimated, turned into true quartet material, as surely are the Russian tunes of the Razumovskys. Willey’s command of modern harmony, his metrical astuteness, shaping of form, and handling of textures delight ear and mind."

The National Endowment for the Arts has recognized Willey with three major fellowships, and he has received numerous awards from The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) between 1975 to 2003. In addition, he is listed in Contemporary Composers (1976), ASCAP Biographical Dictionary (1980), Contemporary American Composers: A Biographical Dictionary (1982) and Who’s Who in American Music, 1st Edition (1983).

Geneseo’s commencement will be broadcast live on the Web at

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Media passes are required for admittance to the grandstand. For more information, or to obtain a pass, call Sarah Grace Frisch at (585) 245-5516, or after 6:30 p.m. and on weekends at (585) 657-5488.