Meet the Johnnies: James Siranovich (A22)
October 3, 2018 | By Kimberly Uslin
In his decades-long music career, James Siranovich (A22) has worked as assistant conductor of the Fairfax Symphony in Virginia, been a vocal coach with Virginia Opera, put on orchestral concerts to benefit inner-city music programs in Baltimore and New Orleans, and served as the music director at the church on the Upper East Side that Jackie Onassis once attended.
He still has to be part of the Freshman Chorus.
“Everyone keeps asking me if I’m bummed that I have to do it because I’ve trained choruses and all that,” he says. “But I say no, because Ms. Paalman is excellent. I’ve never trained a chorus that wasn’t all professional musicians. It’s a whole different thing that she does. So I’m enjoying singing in the chorus, not just to sing, but to learn from her how to teach people of diverse musical backgrounds. And she’s what, a biophysicist or something like that?”
It’s for reasons like these, Siranovich says, that he chose to go for the full four-year Program rather than the master’s degree from the Graduate Institute. He first discovered St. John’s in the early ’90s at age 19, but was already pursuing a “musical path.” As seems to always be the story, though, the school stuck with him.
“It’s sort of like those people who say, you know, ‘If I had to do it all again, I would have been a ballerina,’” he says. “And then just this past year, a lot of things came together and I had the time to do the full undergraduate program, and I was just like ‘I’m going to be a ballerina. I’m actually going to do it.’ I’ve wanted to be here for about 25 years.”
The academics, of course, were the main appeal. Siranovich is a longtime admirer of the Greeks, and though he has read about half of the Program books throughout his life, he looked forward to revisiting them in an academic setting.
“It’s different to read it again at this age,” he says, "and to read and to be prepared to discuss it with 15 people who’ve also read it and have strong opinions.”
But he wanted, too, to experience student life as it can only be experienced at St. John’s.
“The discussions formally end at 10 p.m., but they spill out into the quad sometime after seminar and you stand out there until 12, 12:30 [a.m.]. It’s an intellectual paradise.”
While he’s significantly older than most of his cohorts, age has not been a barrier.
“I taught at Montclair State for four years, so I had been around [younger people], but it’s a different experience to be their classmate,” he says. “I learn a lot from all the different perspectives. And I have to say—these young people come to class, especially the seminar, so well-prepared. I’m blown away by the degree of careful, close reading that they’ve done of these complicated texts, sometimes even in their second or third language.”
“It forces you to raise the bar for yourself,” he adds.
It’s not just classes that connect Siranovich and his fellow Johnnies, however.
“You know, I thought that I would be dating myself to say I prefer vinyl records,” he says, laughing. “But I noticed so many people carrying LP players to the dorms. So I think in addition to everything else, I found another enclave of vinyl record and sound lovers.”
Recently, he joined the on-campus acting troupe the King William Players, where he serves as both a dialogue coach, helping Johnnie actors with their accents for The Importance of Being Earnest, and as a cast member, portraying Lady Bracknell.
“Lady Bracknell is just a role that I’ve always been attracted to, and even in Wilde’s time, both men and women played her,” he says. “I’m thrilled to be able to do it. I never thought I’d be able to. She has all the best lines and she steals every scene. I can’t wait.”
Siranovich has found himself engaging with members of the St. John’s community who are a few years (or, in some cases, decades) older as well. He is part of an extracurricular study group led by former Annapolis president Christopher Nelson on The Tale of Genji, a Japanese work sometimes called the very first novel.
“That’s been a whole other fascinating experience,” he says. “I’m in the seminar with younger people, and now I’m in this study group with people older than my parents. I’ve always had much older and much younger friends. I just love it.”