Dr. James Callahan, a longtime professor in the Department of Music, passed away peacefully on Dec. 28, 2023. Known as "Jim" by his colleagues, Callahan taught piano, organ, music theory, composition, orchestration and various other classes at the University of St. Thomas from 1968 until his retirement in 2006. He was recipient of a number of awards and honors including an NEH grant in 1975, a Jerome Foundation grant for composition, a Bush Foundation Fellowship for Artists, 1984 and "An Die Musik" honors from the Schubert Club in 2010.
A funeral service will be held on Saturday, Jan. 27, at 11 a.m. on campus at the Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas.
Remembering Jim Callahan
Callahan had a great impact on the lives of many, and is fondly remembered by his students and colleagues at St. Thomas. Here are some reflections from current faculty in the Department of Music, Film and Creative Enterprise.
Dr. Shersten Johnson, Professor and Chair:
Jim and I only overlapped for a few years at St. Thomas. He taught the more advanced music theory courses, and I was hired to teach the others. I remember that I covered for his classes during his last sabbatical and when he came back, he announced his retirement. When I showed surprise and said something to the effect of “no, you can’t retire,” he said, “well you’re here now, so I can.” I greatly appreciated his faith in me. In the years since then, our friendship grew. We regularly met for coffee and shared stories about St. Thomas and “nerded out” over our favorite operas. I miss him.
Dr. Douglas C. Orzolek, Professor, Associate Chair and Director of Symphonic Band:
As I young professor, I often turned to my more senior colleagues for advice, ideas and suggestions about how to advance my own teaching. The first person I invited to observe me was Jim. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but he was very kind and generous in his lauds and his suggestions. He invited me to watch and share in his own teaching on several occasions. I enjoyed sharing notes about teaching, music making and just how to live a good life with Jim. He was a wonderful colleague, but I was even more honored to consider him my friend!
Dr. Albert Pinsonneault, Assistant Professor and Director of Choral Activities:
James Callahan taught me piano in the 1997-98 school year, and helped me prepare for scholarship auditions at Oberlin, Northwestern, and St. Olaf. I remember his quiet intensity as a teacher, and many of his lessons. We were working on Liszt’s "Wilde Jagd," he told me that your fingers had to know exactly where they were going — there was no time to “look for” the notes. It left an impression as a metaphor for how to live; sit and work until you know precisely where you are going — a hard-earned decisiveness.
Later on I knew him as an avid audience member at all sorts of concerts throughout town, always eager to talk and catch up. I was so touched that he reached out and we had coffee after I had come to work at St. Thomas.
James Callahan left a legacy at St. Thomas, and in the whole community. He will be missed.