James Donald Hanson

1936 -

James Hanson, a music teacher specializing in training choirs and individual singers, retired in 2001 after teaching for 41 years. During his career, he performed frequently as a tenor soloist and was known for the quality of his work as a choir director and voice teacher.

James was born in Beloit, Wisconsin, the youngest of four children of Donald George and Hazel May Calkins Hanson. He attended Broadview Academy in Illinois, where he had an inspiring experience in music, singing in the choir under the leadership of Melvin Johnson for his first two years and then under Bradley Braley during his last two years. He recently talked about how his interest in music grew while in the academy and why he eventually decided to pursue it as a career:

I had enjoyed music and singing as a child, but really did not have much of a background since music was not a family activity. In my sophomore year I was invited by some of the older boys to join a quartet in academy probably because I could carry a part. We had some really good quartets while there, and I just loved singing in them and also enjoyed singing in the choir. My interest in music continued to grow, and at some point I started thinking, "Wouldn't it be great to be a music teacher?"

When my family moved to Southern California in the fall of my senior year, I continued at Broadview and graduated in 1953. Still unsure about what to pursue that fall, I enrolled at La Sierra College. now University, since my parents lived near there.

My brother was majoring in math and I looked up to him and so I took some advanced math classes, chemistry, and other general freshman classes. I joined the choir and sang under John T. Hamilton in the La Sierra Collegians, a select singing group that performed with a small orchestra and toured a lot. Alfred Walters and Hamilton were the conductors.

Although I enjoyed making music under these men, I missed a lot of my friends that I had known at Broadview, many of whom had gone to Emmanuel Missionary College, now Andrews University. I transferred there at the end of my freshman year and stayed there for two years. It was at this time that I decided to be a music teacher and majored in music.

In his two years at Emmanuel Missionary College, James sang under Melvin Davis in the Collegians and joined with two former quartet members from Broadview Academy and a student at EMC to sing in the Collegianaires, a popular quartet that was featured on tours with the Collegians. He also met Alma Jewell Morris, a pre-nursing student.

At the end of his second year at EMC, Alma needed to do a residency at a hospital to complete her RN and had a choice of doing it at Hinsdale Sanitarium near Chicago, Loma Linda Hospital, or at Glendale Sanitarium and Hospital, both in California. The expense at GSH was much less than at the other hospitals and that, plus the financial advantage for him if he returned to LSC, where he could live with his parents, led them to move there in 1956. Both completed their studies and married in June 1958 after James graduated.

Hanson began teaching music at Plainview Academy, no longer in existence, in South Dakota, only to be drafted in the fall of that first year. Following two years in the army, he accepted a position at Auburn Adventist Academy in Washington State in 1960, where he taught voice and directed the band. At the beginning of his second year he was asked to also direct the choir. Because he was on active reserve, his career was again interrupted during that year when he was called up in October for a ten-month tour of service.

When Hanson returned to the academy at the end of that school year to resume teaching in the fall of 1962, he taught voice and in the next seven years directed two choirs, one of which was the select choir, Sylvan, and on occasion directed a male chorus. During that time he and the choir were involved with an area orchestra, which he now recalls as a memorable experience:

LeRoy Weber, who taught strings at the academy, was a member of a group in Seattle, the Thalia Symphony Orchestra, an ensemble made up of community and school music teachers. We had them out for a concert at the academy and following the program, the conductor, Mikael Scheremetiew, in a conversation with us, said to me, "Why don't you do something with us and you conduct?"

I had become acquainted with Howard Hanson's Song of Democracy and thought it to be a moving, beautiful piece. I suggested it to him and he thought it would be great. The following year, I conducted it when the orchestra performed at the academy, and the students and I really enjoyed the experience. In the next two years we also performed the Brahms Song of Destiny (Schicksalied), and Randell Thompson's The Last Words of David.

In 1967, while at Auburn, Hanson completed an M.Mus. at the University of Puget Sound and two years later was invited to join the faculty at Andrews University to teach voice, direct the University Chorale, and teach music education classes. He enjoyed working with Rudolf Strukoff, who also taught voice and directed the select choir, the University Singers, and on special occasions they would join forces.

During his time at AU, Hanson completed a D.M.A. in vocal performance and pedagogy at George Peabody College of Vanderbilt University in 1977. He also directed the Singing Men and Ladies Chorus and from 1987 to 1991 chaired the department. At the end of that time he took a three-year leave and pursued some personal projects.

In 1994 he resumed his career when he was invited to chair the music department at Thiel College, a Lutheran school in Pennsylvania, where he was also director of choral and vocal studies. Two years later he went to Southern Adventist University, where he taught voice until 1999, served as interim chair of the department in 1999-2000, and conducted the choirs from 1999-2001.

James and Alma, who completed a B.S. in nursing in 1982 at AU, have four children, Craig, Janel, Julia, and Jon. They were all active in school music, performed as a family, and still enjoy music at family gatherings which came to include twelve grandchildren. The Hansons retired to Berrien Springs, Michigan, after leaving SAU in 2001. He returned to teaching at AU in 2009 for three years as an adjunct professor in voice before fully retiring in 2012


Sources: Interviews with James Hanson in 2001 and June 2012; Information provided by Hanson in 2014; North Pacific Union Conference Gleaner, 22 October 1962, 5; The 1956 EMC yearbook, The Cardinal, 93; Thalia Orchestra website; Southern Tidings, April 1997, 9, Personal knowledge.