Meet the Millikin-Decatur Symphony Orchestra Leaders

Sarah Olbert

Dr. William James McClain


Conductor and violist William James McClain is Music Director and Conductor of the Millikin-Decatur Symphony Orchestra and the Millikin Chamber Orchestra. He has appeared in major venues across the United States and abroad including Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, Carnegie Hall, and the Sheremetev Palace in Saint Petersburg Russia. In the spring of 2006, he conducted Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite with the Macon Symphony Orchestra in Georgia as the 2005 winner of the International Conductors Workshop and Festival Competition. Since then he has been awarded that distinction again and invited back to lead the Macon Symphony as a guest conductor. Dr. McClain was also honored by the International Academy of Advanced Conducting in Saint Petersburg Russia where he conducted the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic’s Congress Orchestra. Most recently Dr. McClain was guest conductor for Millikin-Decatur Symphony’s WOMEN 2020 – CENTENIAL VOTE CELEBRATION! which featured Amy Beach’s “Gaelic” Symphony in E Minor, and has also appeared as guest conductor with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, West Virginia Symphony Orchestra, and the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra. He has conducted professional, community, and talented youth orchestras for over twenty years and continues to be passionate about the education of the next generation of musicians.

As a violist Dr. McClain has recorded with the Adriane String Quartet (faculty string quartet at Ithaca College) and maintains an active chamber music and solo recital schedule most recently appearing on “The Night of Chamber Music,” part of the Guest Artist Series at Georgia Military College and on the Guest Artist Chamber Music Recital at Birmingham-Southern College. He currently performs with the Augusta Symphony Orchestra, Columbus Symphony Orchestra, and the Savannah Philharmonic Orchestra in Georgia. A former member of the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra and the Tri-Cities Opera Orchestra Dr. McClain was also principal violist for the Allentown Symphony, the Orchestra of the Southern Finger Lakes, Orchestra Noir in Atlanta, Georgia, and principal violist at the 2016 Colour of Music Festival held in Charleston, South Carolina.

Dr. McClain was Strings Coordinator and Director of Orchestras at Georgia College and State University. He taught viola and violin at Huston Tillotson College as an adjunct faculty member and at Mercer University as a guest artist. He also taught undergraduate viola at Ithaca College and The University of Maryland at College Park as a graduate assistant. Dr. McClain is a former faculty member at Phillips Exeter Academy where he was named the John and Elizabeth Phillips Fellow. While at the academy he was director of the chamber music program, conducted the Exeter Symphony Orchestra, founded the Exeter Symphonia, and taught in the music theory program.

A native of Washington D.C., Dr. McClain is currently an Associate Professor of Music at Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois. Dr. McClain received degrees in orchestral conducting and viola performance from The University of Maryland at College Park, Ithaca College, and The University of Texas at Austin.

Dr. Aaron Jacobs

Dr. Aaron M. Jacobs


Aaron Jacobs’ teaching blends influences from the works of Shin’ichi Suzuki, Paul Rolland, Mimi Zweig, Ivan Galamian, and traditional methods.

With 19 years of teaching experience among all age and ability levels, he has taught at universities, academies, music schools, and summer camps throughout Ohio, Maine, Wisconsin, and Illinois. Currently, he mentors a full studio of 30+ violinists and violists, and a staff of 15+ graduate and post-doctoral instructors through the School of Music at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he founded the Illinois String Academy as part of the School of Music’s public engagement offerings.

At UIUC he is also Co-Director of The Paul Rolland String Pedagogy Workshop for professional musicians and teachers, and Director of “Young Strings on the Move!” – The Paul Rolland String Camp, for children ages 5-12.

At Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois, Aaron is on the faculty in violin and string pedagogy for University string majors. He also created a violin program for Danville, IL school district 118, which offers violin instruction to nearly 200 first and second-grade students at two elementary schools in Danville, IL. Aaron’s private students consistently win top honors and receive numerous performance awards each year, including solo concerto performances with orchestras as well as admission and scholarship offers to prestigious collegiate music institutions.

As a performer, Aaron is in high demand as a soloist and chamber and orchestra musician throughout Illinois. During the past seven years, he has performed as concertmaster or principal second violin for eleven different orchestras in Central Illinois. As an active chamber and solo recitalist, Aaron has performed throughout the United States and Europe, and has been the featured soloist for orchestras in Ohio and Illinois.

He has also been the recipient of several honors and awards, and a prizewinner at international competitions. In duo with his wife and pianist, Tatiana Shustova, performances of recent years have ranged from concert halls in the Midwest and East Coast to Italy and Russia. Tatiana and Aaron currently reside in Urbana, IL, with their two sons, Pavel and Mikhail.


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David Cook