by Kara Petrovic // Fall 2010
Professor Carter Enyeart and James Mitchell
Professor Carter Enyeart selected James Mitchell as the first student to use the Conservatory’s cello. –Photo by Michael McClure

Since the age of 11, Conservatory of Music and Dance student James Mitchell has dreamed of being a cellist for a national symphony. And now, thanks to a “rare and valuable” donation by alumnus Marcia Whitcomb (B.M. ’60, cello and music theory), Mitchell says his dream may eventually become a reality.

When Mitchell first arrived at the Conservatory in 2008, he brought his own cello he’d purchased from a pawn shop in Oklahoma. And while that cello suited his needs in high school, he says he never imagined outgrowing it by the end of his freshman year or using one of the school’s instruments so soon. This past fall, however, Carter Enyeart, professor of Cello and Chamber Music and UMKC’s Rose Ann Carr Millsap/Missouri Distinguished Professor, selected Mitchell as the first student to use the school’s newly donated circa-1780 cello made by William Forster, one of England’s most respected names in instrument making and publishing.

“I wanted to a select a student who, first of all, has the most need for a better instrument and also who was the most deserving, and as of right now that’s James,” Enyeart says. “There comes a point when a student reaches the maximum that he or she can do with the equipment they have. If students can’t reproduce what they have in mind in terms of sound and expression, then equipment becomes very important. I’ve seen it happen time after time. When students get a new instrument it changes their whole educational trajectory.”

Whitcomb first contacted Enyeart four years ago about the cello she’d purchased her senior year at the Conservatory from a shop in Philadelphia. After years of debating whether or not to donate the cello, Whitcomb says it was that initial conversation with Enyeart that encouraged her to follow her intuition. “I’ve had that cello for many years and been very successful with it,” she says. “I finally decided last fall that it was time to pass it along. I’m 71 years old, and the arthritis in my hand isn’t getting better. Donating the cello now also gives me the opportunity to know which deserving student is using it.”

For the next three years, Mitchell will continue to maximize his artistry on the cello. “Within the first few weeks, I noticed a huge difference,” Mitchell says. “This cello is completely different from ones I’ve previously played on and has a very rich sound. I can’t thank Mrs. Whitcomb enough for her generous donation.”

“James is exactly the type of student I hoped for,” Whitcomb says. “He has a lot of ambition and is definitely willing to work hard. Students who attend schools on the East Coast don’t have to worry, because their schools already have excellent instruments. But schools in the Midwest always seem shortchanged. I hope my gift will encourage someone else to give back to help draw more students to the Conservatory.”

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All smiles