James Park '07
James Park ’07 came to Princeton from Overland Park, Kansas, thinking he would major in public policy or economics. Four years later, he applied and was accepted to a graduate program in musicology at Yale University, where he is currently working on a dissertation that has its roots in his undergraduate senior thesis.
It might seem like a big leap for a young mind to make, but that’s an important aspect of Princeton’s undergraduate education. “No matter what you concentrate in, you never feel pigeonholed into doing only that,” says Park, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in music and certificates in finance and violin performance.
Park says that Princeton’s distribution requirements, which ask students to take courses across a wide spectrum of disciplines, set the framework for an extraordinary liberal arts education. “Princeton not only encourages you to explore other areas but sets the expectation that you will,” he says.
Park began his Princeton career taking mostly public policy and finance classes, but never left music behind — particularly violin performance. Park was a co-concertmaster of the Princeton University Orchestra and played with several smaller chamber ensembles, including a string quartet. He continued performing orchestral and chamber music at Yale.
It wasn’t long before Park fell in love with Princeton’s music department; he calls himself its biggest fan. He says he enjoyed each and every class and professor he had in the department, but when pressed for his favorite, he points to his thesis adviser, Scott Burnham.
“Professor Burnham is a fantastically intelligent guy; but more important, he’s a really down-to-earth, nice person,” says Park. “In addition to giving intellectual and academic advice, he also gives very good life advice.”
One of Park’s best music experiences came during a special chamber music performance class taught each spring by the Brentano String Quartet, one of the world’s finest string ensembles. To be personally coached by such an esteemed group of musicians — and get academic credit for it — was unforgettable, says Park.
Few experiences at Princeton can compete with taking part in the hilarious, high-energy productions of the Triangle Club, of which Park was a cast member for four years. "The Triangle Club is one of the oldest undergraduate musical comedy theater groups in the country," explains Park. Students write the scripts, compose the songs and perform in each show — and the shows always play to a full house.
As a Triangle alumnus, Park joins the likes of Brooke Shields ’87; Jimmy Stewart ’32; and the star of TV’s “Prison Break,” Wentworth Miller ’95.