Faculty Spotlight – James Poulsen

How long have you been teaching at Simpson and what do you teach?

I’ve been teaching Discovering Music for 23 years. I started teaching part-time in 2000 and it worked up to a full-time schedule in 2003. I teach music theory, ear training, Discovering Music, and piano lessons, plus I currently accompany 23 voice majors.

Do you work outside of Simpson? 

I teach some private piano lessons in my home; I play a jazz piano gig almost every Friday and Saturday night and sometimes Sunday. I play church piano and organ every Sunday morning.

What makes teaching at Simpson unique?

Actually, the exceptional music program and music faculty, but especially the excellent students the program brings in. A large part of what I do is accompany voice students so I get to hear some great singing voices 2-3 hours a day.

What do you enjoy most about working with adult students?

When you teach, you learn something new or different almost every week; adult students bring a different perspective to class. I enjoy hearing about a different artist, band, or type of music that someone mentions to me during or after class. My favorite thing, of course, is when someone gets interested in a classical composer or piece of music that they thought they wouldn’t be interested in at all.

You have had a very interesting career in music. Would you please tell us a little about the experience?

I’ve done a lot of things in music—even though I’ve always been a classical pianist first, I played in various bands from age 15-36, sometimes full-time. I almost got a record deal with CBS American records in the mid- 80’s, but that fell through with our agent. I composed music full-time for commercials and business films from 1991-2003 and I’ve done a few jingles since then. I even scored a full-length horror movie that was shown at the Cannes Film Festival in 2005. I’ve had 4 commissions for orchestral works with the Des Moines Symphony and I’ve had works also performed by the Dubuque Symphony and the Waltham Philharmonic in Boston recently. I’ve written a number of art songs that are often performed by Simpson students and faculty and elsewhere around the country.

Please tell us about your family and how you like to spend your free time.

I’ve been married to Lori 28 years and we have two children, 17 and 13. Our son is coming to Simpson next year. I accompany my kids when they perform on sax or violin in recitals or music contests.

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