Manhattan School of Music's new president will focus on keeping the Morningside Heights college at the forefront of music education while relying on his past experience working at the school.
James Gandre, who is currently the provost and executive vice president of Roosevelt University in Chicago, served as MSM’s dean of alumni and enrollment between 1995 and 2000.
He will succeed composer Robert Sirota, who left the school, on Claremont Avenue at 122nd Street, last fall. Gandre will assume the position in early May.
In an interview Thursday, Gandre said his past experience with the school, combined with his professional experience in academic administration and professional music performance, prepared him for the job.
“I think the things that were attractive to the search committee and the Board of Trustees were a combination of my skills and experience,” Gandre said. “I know the heart and soul of the place.”
A Wisconsin native, Gandre earned his bachelor's of music degree at Lawrence University. After receiving his master's degree at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Gandre performed around the world as a tenor with the New York Philharmonic and other international ensembles. He later received doctorates in education and higher education administration at the University of Nebraska.
Gandre said this shift from professional performance to education was part of a larger realization about the importance of education in his life, one that was so profound that he can recall the exact moment that he made the decision to become an administrator.
“It was Labor Day weekend of 1985, and I woke up and said, ‘This is what I want to do,’” Gandre said. “College gave me the opportunity to completely reinvent myself, and because of that, it’s the thing that drives me to be in this business and help other people, no matter what their background is.”
Gandre said he was waiting to consult with his colleagues before deciding whether to create any new programs or curricula at the school. But he pointed to a number of innovative steps the school was already taking to stay at the forefront of music education, programs that he said were major factors in drawing him back to New York.
“The Manhattan School of Music has always been really creative in ways that I don’t see other conservatories doing,” he said. “A lot of times, conservatories, if you look at their names, are conserving, being conservative.”
He referenced the school’s work to expand distance learning via video-conferencing software, and the Center for Music Entrepreneurship, which provides resources for graduating students to develop their own careers rather than join larger ensembles.
“In this rapidly changing cultural, musical and economic landscape, the Board was highly drawn to Jim’s ideas to re-shape the educational practices and focus of this venerable music school," MSM Chairman Peter G. Robbins said in a statement.
Gandre said he and his husband, Chicago psychiatrist Boris Thomas, were “both so happy to be coming back to New York, where we met, and to be part of the Morningside Heights community.”