Some Sort of Normalcy: Will James

By Tim Munro


Will James, SLSO Principal Percussionist, had no time to think. His children’s school would imminently close. His wife would need to remain out of the house for work. So Will—like a lot of Americans—has become full-time parent, full-time teacher, and full-time housekeeper.

“There wasn’t a whole lot of time to slowly adjust,” he says.

Most important was to keep the lives of their two children—Joe is two, and Cate is four—fairly normal. “They are very young,” says Will, “and I don’t want them to feel any more anxiety than they need to.” He and his wife made a list of things that they wanted their children to do each day, “to keep some sort of normalcy.”

Will’s home soon became a multi-function zone. It is a school. “Cate is getting really good at spelling and is on the cusp of sounding out words.” He has her identifying words with what they are: the color red with the word red. And his son, Joe? “We are in the midst of potty training.”

It is a gym. “My daughter likes to do gymnastics, so some sort of dancing,” and if the weather turns nice, even for a moment, they dash outside.

It is a Home Ec classroom. “I’m teaching my oldest to fold laundry, and we’ve been attempting to clean one room every day.” They have a deal: as long as they clean, Cate and Joe can listen to loud music. “It’s like breaking the rules and being productive at the same time,” Will laughs, adding, “some days are better than others in this area.”

It is a movie theater and communications hub. “We are watching cartoons and the occasional movie,” he says. And they FaceTime with friends. “It’s so funny to watch four-year-olds FaceTime,” says Will, “throwing the phone around, running around the house, shouting ‘Look at this! Look at this! Look at this!’”

Will performing at a St. Louis Symphony: Live at the Pulitzer concert

It is a mobile office. Will has a home studio with the instruments he needs to prepare for concerts, but now doesn’t have any time to practice. Lack of practice is somewhat less damaging for percussionists than wind and brass players, where any time away means lost endurance. “If we do get the word to go,” he says, “I will be fine with three or four weeks’ preparation.”

The one thing Will insists on is time to exercise. It keeps him physically and mentally in shape. Will’s workout accompaniment has shifted from news podcasts (“Not when I’m trying to relax”), to the music that is close to his heart: singer-songwriter artists like Gregory Alan Isakov, and The Tallest Man on Earth.

And Coldplay. In this time of stress, a sense of home: “There’s an element of Coldplay that is purely nostalgic for me.”

Tim Munro is the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra’s Creative Partner. A writer, broadcaster, and Grammy-winning flutist, he lives in Chicago with his wife, son, and badly-behaved orange cat.

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