James Sobaskie (Faculty)

James Sobaskie, pictured at a piano with books on classical composers.

Music has always been a part of James Sobaskie’s life, whether he was watching his mother play piano when he was barely taller than the instrument’s keys, learning guitar in sixth grade, studying music composition and theory in college, or researching and teaching at universities across the country.

Now an associate professor in Mississippi State University’s Department of Music, Sobaskie has the opportunity every day to deepen his own knowledge of music and pass that knowledge on to his students, many of whom will go on to become music teachers themselves.

“Music essentially tells its own secrets if you look deep enough into it,” Sobaskie said. “That’s what I try to instill in my students. We try to help them gain the skills to look deeply at the way the music is put together so that they can understand how different pieces of music function.”

Sobaskie studied composing as an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota and received a doctorate in music theory at the University of Wisconsin. His research interests include the works of composers Franz Schubert, Fryderyk Chopin and Gabriel Fauré.

With support from his department and the College of Education, Sobaskie has been able to expand his research and create new international connections. In the last year, he has kept busy with conference presentations in the European cities of Oxford, London and Strasbourg; pre-concert lectures for four Los Angeles Philharmonic concerts and finishing his book on Fauré, among other projects. He has been invited to speak next March at the University of Oxford as part of its Faculty of Music's Research Colloquium series.

In the classroom, Sobaskie teaches music theory, ear training, composition, form and orchestration. The Minnesota native first began teaching music to others when he was 15. Many of the Department of Music’s students go on to become music teachers and band directors, while others become performance musicians or move on to graduate school.

“One of the great things about being a music professor is you learn more detail each time you explain a concept to a new class,” Sobaskie said. “I look forward to teaching certain topics because it gives me an opportunity to re-learn and deepen my understanding.”

Although he is a Midwesterner, Sobaskie’s connections to Mississippi date back to his birth. He was born in a hospital overlooking the Mississippi River, albeit about 1,000 miles away from the state of Mississippi. After learning the guitar, Mississippi legend B.B. King became a hero of Sobaskie’s. He owns his own “Lucille,” a name King gave his famous guitar.

After nine years at Mississippi State, Sobaskie said he enjoys the personable atmosphere at the university, as well as the ample space on campus to take his two golden retrievers on early morning walks.

“In our department, we pride ourselves on making sure that our students know we’re glad they are there,” Sobaskie said. “We make ourselves available to them. We recruit and bring students to us through enthusiasm and personality more than anything else.”