Surround Yourself in Song

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Q&A with James Bagwell


by Kayla Moore


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James Bagwell has been Director of the May Festival Youth Chorus since 1996, and over the past few years has traveled from New York to Cincinnati weekly for rehearsals. Since the 2018 season of the May Festival is his final year with the organization, we wanted to ask him some questions about his time conducting the Youth Chorus and about his experiences with Cincinnati’s musical arts.

May Festival Magazine: In this, your final year as May Festival Youth Chorus Director, what have you cherished most about this organization and the singers you have worked with?
James Bagwell: The most cherished moments of conducting the May Festival Youth Chorus have been introducing to them some of the great works in the choral repertoire. There is something truly rewarding about working with them on repertoire that they might not otherwise have an opportunity to sing. Selfishly, I am especially proud to have presented works of Monteverdi and Schutz for the first time to the May Festival repertoire.

MFM: What is one of the most important skills you’ve learned during your time conducting the Youth Chorus?
JB: I have learned that one has to treat young singers with the same amount of care, concern and high expectations that one would expect with more experienced singers. One of my favorite teachers told me that “the only limitations that your students have are your limitations,” and I am certain he was right. I have tried to overcome my own limitations as a conductor and teacher, and the Youth Chorus has helped with that growth enormously.

MFM: What is one memory that stands out to you over your years with the May Festival?
JB: The one great memory is a composite: watching my teacher, Robert Porco, work over the past 20 years. It’s like getting a booster shot, and it reminds me how lucky I am to continue to learn from one of the greats.

MFM: Now that you’re ending this chapter of your career, what’s next on the horizon?
JB: For the past several seasons, I have been preparing choruses for the New York Philharmonic, which I will continue to do next season. In addition, I have been doing more orchestral conducting in New York and other places, which I hope to expand in the coming years.

James Bagwell is the Director of the May Festival Youth Chorus who will make an appearance at the 2018 Sing Hallelujah! 

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