UMKC Conservatory Students Benefit from Legacy of a Beloved Instructor

Grassroots effort leads to memorial scholarship

The late James Rothwell had an entrepreneurial spirit and a passion for creating music. A pioneer in electronic sound recording, Rothwell and his achievements are memorialized in the James A. Rothwell Scholarship Fund at the UMKC Conservatory.

 Kriss Avery (‘78 B.M.), Rothwell’s widow, led the charge in establishing the scholarship.

“After Jim died in 2015, I had a conversation with Larry Bailey (B.M. ’79, MBA ’87) and Tom Mardikes (M.F.A. ’97) [UMKC professor of sound design], who mentioned the idea of starting a scholarship in Jim’s name. I thought it was such a great idea. There were so many chapters in Jim’s life and a lot of people he had touched.”

The late Jim Rothwell in studio

Based on the scope of Rothwell’s career, Avery knew that she would have access to a breadth of people who would be interested in supporting a scholarship.

“Jim had a very magnetic personality,” she says. “All of the people that came into his circle he called ‘the tribe.’ But they were all musicians, so we knew we needed to be reasonable in our expectations of what we could raise.”

She planned a memorial gathering and encouraged people to share their memories of Rothwell and raise seed money for the scholarship. His daughter’s family made the first contribution.

Avery notes that these types of funds are often mentioned at someone’s funeral. Since that hadn’t happened in this situation, she made it her mission to provide access to the information so Rothwell’s friends and colleagues could find information online and direct other people who might be interested in donating. She developed the JAR Fund website, In Room 202, and created a page on Facebook.

“Jim had a very magnetic personality.’’ - Kriss Avery

But Rothwell’s friends were not the only scholarship supporters. Paul Rudy, FAAR ‘11, curators’ distinguished professor and coordinator of composition at the UMKC Conservatory, did not know Rothwell, but was friends with Avery. He went to the memorial for Rothwell, which a number of alumni attended.

“It was amazing to see these people, where they landed and how impactful Jim had been in their lives. It was so touching to see and feel their fondness of him, and I was really glad I got to know him a little vicariously through them.”

When Rudy became aware that Avery was establishing a scholarship in Rothwell’s honor, he contributed to the fund.

“Jim was an innovator until the end, and so to have a group of alumni leading this idea to memorialize him was really wonderful. They were so proactive — especially Kriss! — and it was heart-warming to see.”

Rudy sees the impact of scholarships on students.

“It’s really simple — students with scholarships do better,” Rudy says. “Students who don’t have adequate support have to work one or two jobs while going to school full-time. It’s often brutal and can be demoralizing. When students get support — it’s really simple — they do better.”

For the last two years, the James A. Rothwell Scholarship has been awarded to Kwan Leung Ling, who is pursuing his master’s degree in music composition. One of his areas of focus is studying the similarities between American jazz and Cantonese musical forms. Recently, he composed music for the animated short film, “24,” which was selected for Animation Chico Film Festival in California and the Video Art & Experimental Film Festival in New York City this November.

“Studying at UMKC is a dream for most of the composers around the world. I felt extremely grateful and pleased to be the first recipient of this scholarship in honor of an unforgettable professor.”
- Kwan Leung Ling, student

“Kwan and I met at a dinner last Fall,” Avery says. “We stay in touch. He let me know that one of his pieces was performed in China last year.”

It seems fitting that Ling was the first recipient of the Rothwell Scholarship, as he was drawn to UMKC by the world-class faculty.

“Studying at UMKC is a dream for most of the composers around the world,” Ling says. “I felt extremely grateful and pleased to be the first recipient of this scholarship in honor of an unforgettable professor.”

Ling says his scholarship has led to unexpected opportunities.

“This scholarship attracted even more attention in the sound design world, and gave me an opportunity to research and apply that knowledge into my current projects. I am inserting more sound design ideas into my collaborations with artists in different art fields. I believe that this will be the best way of giving back to this honorable scholarship.”

The late Jim Rothwell

While the site-building and fundraising took some energy, Avery is thrilled that Rothwell’s scholarship is able to make a difference for Ling and other students to come. She would advise people looking to start a grassroots fundraising effort to create a website and take advantage of social media.

“I still maintain the Facebook page and I recently re-launched the site,” she says. “I loved him, and I like having this lovely place on the internet to point to and remind people, ‘He really was special.’”

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Published: Nov 13, 2020