Graduate student James May is UofL's first George J. Mitchell Scholar.
Graduate student James May is UofL's first George J. Mitchell Scholar.

A University of Louisville School of Music graduate student has been selected as a George J. Mitchell scholar.

James May is the university’s first Mitchell Scholar, an award given to just 12 Americans each year for postgraduate study in Ireland that includes tuition, accommodations, travel expenses and a stipend. Awardees are selected based on scholarship, leadership and community service. He will use the scholarship to study new music production and performance at Ireland’s University College, Cork.

May has created more than a dozen original compositions that have been performed by students and ensembles around the country including the San Francisco Choral Artists, Beo String Quartet and LONGLEASH piano trio. He has served as a peer mentor, volunteer program coordinator and student speech coach while an undergraduate student and currently teaches contemporary music at Louisville’s Youth Performing Arts School.

“James is a perfect fit for this award,” said School of Music Dean Chris Doane. “His work as a composer, volunteer, teacher and leader is inspiring to all of us and I have no doubt that he will use this scholarship as a springboard to continue these good works on an international level.”

A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, May came to UofL on the Bomhard Fellowship after graduating from The College of Wooster, Wooster, Ohio, with degrees in music composition and English.

“UofL is an incredible place for composers, so when I was applying to graduate school it was one of the first suggestions from my private instructor,” May said.  “The music department has a strong tradition of promoting contemporary music, most obviously through the Grawemeyer Award in Music Composition, and so has an unbelievable amount of resources and opportunities for us. I’ve had so much support from the school for getting my works performed and participating in events around the country. The department also provides generous financial support for its composers, which I think is just a further testament to how invested they are in contemporary music.”

Dr. Patricia Condon, who heads the university’s Office of National and International Scholarship Opportunities, said she “had no doubt” that May would earn the scholarship. 

“Rarely, in 15 years at the University of Louisville working with fellowship candidates from across the university, have we ever presented an applicant better matched to the ideals of the scholarship the candidate is applying for. The minute we saw the opening of May’s personal statement for his Fulbright application, which stated ‘I decided to study classical music because of punk rock,’ we knew we were working with a candidate of exceptional creativity and humor.”

May said he decided to pursue the Mitchell scholarship for a number of reasons.

“My grandparents were from Ireland and I’m very invested in Irish culture and history, so I was excited that such a prestigious award existed to fund study there. I’ve also had a long-standing interest in music in Ireland, both traditional music and other genres, and the prospect of being part of that community was very exciting,” he said.

May expects to begin his study in Ireland next fall after his spring graduation from UofL.