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Home / News / Vale James C Carlsen
Vale James C Carlsen
25 Jun 2020

Vale James C Carlsen - ISME Honorary Life Member and founding member of the ISME Research Commission

 This tribute is written by the Carlsen family.

 James C. Carlsen, internationally recognised for his leadership in the fields of psychomusicology, research methods, and music education, passed away at the age of 93 in Walla Walla, Washington. Dr. Carlsen, Professor Emeritus of Music at the University of Washington, established the graduate program there in systematic musicology, directing it from its inception in 1967 until his retirement in 1992. He worked throughout his career to help advance the field of knowledge in perception and cognition particularly as it relates to practice in music education.

Dr. Carlsen served as a visiting lecturer and research fellow at universities throughout the United States, as well as in Hungary, Germany, Norway, Spain, Argentina, England, and Japan, where he lectured as a guest of the Japanese Government. He was an editor of the Journal of Research in Music Education and on the editorial committee of Psychomusicology. He exercised key leadership roles in the Society for Research in Music Education of the Music Educator's National Conference, the College Music Society, and the ISME Research Commission, of which he was a founding member and past chair. An honorary life member of ISME, recipient of Danforth and Fulbright Fellowships and two international teacher exchange awards, he was awarded the Senior Researcher Award of the Music Educators National Conference, in recognition of his lifetime of contribution to research in music education.

In 2012, the University of Washington endowed the James C. Carlsen Scholar in Music Cognition and Learning which has brought multiple scholars to the UW School of Music to “share the latest research on music cognition and explore how such work can inform contemporary approaches to teaching and learning music.” 

James was known for his humility, his sense of humour, his generous support for others, and his commitment to family and friends. Outgoing, with a love of laughter, he engaged fully with everyone he met, and never seemed to forget anyone’s name. He cared about thoughtful conversation, about honest and ethical behaviour, and about the unique qualities he discovered in each person. Much loved by those who knew him, he will be sorely missed.

Dr. Carlsen is survived by his four children, four grandchildren, and three great-grandsons. He was preceded in death by his wife of sixty-four years, Marybaird Carlsen.

The family requests that donations be made in James’s memory to the Walla Walla Symphony or a charity of the donor’s choice.

To share a memory or leave condolences, please visit the memorial website at

ISME thanks the Carlsen family for this heartfelt tribute and we extend our sympathies to James Carlsen's family and friends. James was a great supporter of ISME over the years. As mentioned above he was a founder of ISME's Research Commission, was a strong member of that Commission and of ISME, and was an honorary life member of ISME, an accolade which is not awarded lightly. Our thoughts are with the family. It is not a cliche to say he will be greatly missed.