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Remembering Jim McDonald

April 18, 2011

We send along to alumni, particularly those of the German School, the sad news that Dr. James McDonald, long-time director of the Middlebury German for Singers and Vocal Coaches program, passed away this winter in Colorado. Well-respected and well-liked by colleagues and students, Jim had since 1999 been the musical heart and soul of this prestigious Middlebury program, an enterprise he nurtured into one so successful that there is now every year a waiting list of students who want to enroll. German for Singers concerts have also become a highlight of the summer arts offerings for the Middlebury community.

Along with his wife, Ruth Ann McDonald, a teacher and coach-accompanist who joined him on the Middlebury campus each summer, Jim recruited students and integrated into German School offerings in language, literature, and culture the performance of German vocal music. Inside the world of the German School, under Jim's careful guidance, singers were required to speak German at all times, while acquiring the skills necessary to become professional artists.

Jim received a DMA degree from the University of Iowa and studied at the Hochschule für Musik in Munich, as the recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship and a German Academic Service stipend. On three different occasions he studied in England at the Britten-Pears School for Advanced Musical Studies; these experiences made him a specialist on the vocal music of Franz Schubert and Benjamin Britten.

Jim developed a following in Germany and England as well as in the United States. He sang at the International Handel Festival in Halle, Germany, and with the Washington National Symphony under Rafael Fruebeck de Burgos. He was regularly heard at the Library of Congress and was a member of the Theater Chamber Players of Kennedy Center, which specializes in chamber music from earliest times to the present and is one of the nation's most versatile ensembles.

Jim and Ruth Ann recently moved to Colorado from Boston, where he had been teaching at the New England Conservatory of Music. Prior to that he was Professor of Voice for ten years at Indiana University, and Professor of Voice for 19 years at the University of Maryland, where he helped create the Maryland Opera Studio and was chair of the Voice/Opera Department.

Jim's students have gone on to teaching and performing in the U.S. and in Europe. Some have won prestigious competitions such as the Metropolitan Opera Competition, and many have distinguished themselves in Young Artist programs across the United States and in the German-speaking countries. The Westdeutscher Rundfunk, one of Germany's largest networks, broadcast interviews and a report on the German for Singers program in 2001.

Jim has deeply touched the lives, both musically and personally, of everyone who had the privilege to work with him. Whatever is accomplished in the German for Singers program in future years will be very much his legacy.

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