October 01, 2016
James Jordan ’75, Ph.D., is a GRAMMY-nominated choral conductor whose contributions to the field have earned him international recognition, including an honorary Doctor of Music degree from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. The acclaim makes it difficult to imagine the accomplished musician as an unsure undergrad playing catch-up to his peers at Susquehanna.
Jordan began college as a biology major. “Music was what I really wanted,” he says, though he admits, “I didn’t have much background at all.” He credits James Steffy, Susquehanna’s former band conductor, for changing his life by accepting him into the program.
Jordan had intended to become a high school band director when he became enamored by choral conducting. Experiences with Susquehanna’s choir “lit the fire,” Jordan says. “All of a sudden I was a clarinet major who auditioned for master’s programs in choral conducting.”
He earned his master’s degree, followed by a doctorate in psychology of music, from Temple University. Now he is a senior conductor and professor at Westminster Choir College. Jordan travels extensively to deliver workshops and keynote addresses at colleges and universities, and conduct diverse choral groups, including all-state choirs and the professional ensemble The Same Stream. He is the author of more than 40 influential books, including The Musician’s Soul and the Evoking Sound choral series, for which he served as editor.
“I’ve always felt a need to pay it forward,” Jordan says, of his writing and teaching. “People at Susquehanna were very kind to me.” He speaks fondly and gratefully of music professors Steffy, Donald Beckie and Cyril Stretansky, among others.
His books promote the type of relationships he experienced at Susquehanna and that he cultivates with his students at Westminster. “I want people to teach better, to be more humane,” says Jordan, whose writing and overall approach to music often focus on “the human things, not just the technical things.”