Passages: Professor Emeritus James C. Carlsen

Professor Emeritus James C. Carlsen
Professor Emeritus James C. Carlsen, founder of the UW Systematic Musicology Program.

Professor Emeritus James Caldwell Carlsen died June 11, 2020 at the Odd Fellows Home in Walla Walla, Washington. Founder and director of the University of Washington’s Systematic Musicology Program, he served on the Music Education faculty from the late 1960s until his retirement in 1994.

Recognized worldwide for his leadership in psychomusicology, research methodology, and music education, Dr. Carlsen was well-known on campus and throughout the world for the substance, insight, clarity, and humor of his lectures on psychomusicology and research.

In addition to serving in an editorial capacity for several scholarly journals, such as the Journal of Research in Music Education, the Japanese Journal of Music Perception and Cognition, and Psychomusicology, Dr. Carlsen held key leadership roles in a number of research and professional organizations. His many honors include a Danforth Teacher Fellowship, two International Research Exchange awards, and a Fulbright fellowship.

“James Carlsen established the Systematic Musicology program at UW when few in the music academy had the foresight to establish a program of research and teaching that embraced the tools and philosophy of the scientific method,” says David B. Williams, a 1970s alumnus of the doctoral program. “For those of us who were fortunate to study under his mentorship, he helped instill in us skills and a healthy mindset founded on rigorous methods of inquiry, a clear sense of the importance of theory development, and a passion for seeking answers to a richer understanding of the music experience.”

Dr. Carlsen is honored at the School of Music by way of the James C. Carlsen Scholar in Music Cognition and Learning, which over the past decade has supported the research of UW students and faculty and brought noted guest scholars in the field of music cognition and learning to the UW to work with students and faculty. 

“For over 20 years, James and I had adjoining offices in different locations in the School of Music,” wrote his longtime UW colleague Barbara Lundquist, on a website dedicated to Dr. Carlsen’s remarkable life. “Our lives intertwined in countless visits, events, and projects for which I am grateful. His influence on me is incalculable. He taught me so much. James also developed an environment in which so many of us thrived. We interacted together as colleagues and students - and became family and friends. His sense of humor, kindness, patience and insight were consistent. He expected my best, but helped me fix my offerings. He celebrated my enthusiasms and encouraged my creativity, while managing to deal kindly with my differences. I wear the silver ring he made for me most every day. My love and respect for him has worn so very well over my lifetime. I am deeply grateful for our friendship; for James’ presence in my life.”

 “Jim was a model of wisdom and grace,” Professor Patricia Campbell, chair of the UW Music Education program, said of her former colleague. "Many of us continue to be inspired by his model of teaching and research with integrity, honesty, and respect for all."

Many former colleagues, students, family, and friends pay tribute to Dr. Carlsen at https://jamescarlsen.com.