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James Allen Dixon


Posted By: Tara (email)
Date: 6/26/2009 at 12:53:56

James Allen Dixon, born April 26, 1928, in Estherville, Iowa, died April 3, 2007, in Iowa City, Iowa, due to complications of influenza. James was adopted by Frank Dixon and grew up in Guthrie Center, Iowa, where he was fostered and mentored by the school teachers and other local professionals. James began working as a shine boy in the local barbershop at age 11. He worked as many hours as he could, first in the barbershop, then in the local bakery, and for one year as part owner of a small farm.

In 1948 James came to the University of Iowa, where, as an undergraduate conducting student, he continued his extraordinary work ethic to great success as a student and leader. Throughout his undergraduate study and beyond, James was the student, assistant and friend of Dimitri Mitropoulos, the renowned Greek conductor, pianist and composer. James received his bachelorís degree in 1952 and then served as a sergeant in the U.S. Army as conductor of the Seventh Army Symphony.

James began his first tenure as conductor of the University of Iowa Symphony Orchestra in 1954. He completed his masterís degree in 1956. After teaching at the New England Conservatory and then serving as assistant conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra, he returned to Iowa City in 1962 as director of orchestras at the University of Iowa. He retired as the Phillip Greeley Clapp/Carver Distinguished Professor of Music in 1997, completing a 40-year tenure.

In addition, James served for 29 years as music director and conductor of the Quad City Symphony Orchestra, retiring from that position in 1994. He is widely credited with building the Quad City Symphony Orchestra into an ensemble of musical distinction that is respected to this day for the innovation of its programming and unquestionable artistic integrity.

Through his long career, James won countless awards recognizing his significant contributions to the field of music, including the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Medal in 1955, given to the finest young artist of the year for conducting; the Gustav Mahler Medal in 1963; a 1978 Laurel Leaf Award from the American Composers Alliance in New York, for distinguished achievement in fostering and encouraging American music; and honorary doctorates from Augustana College and St. Ambrose University. He mentored more than 30 conducting students and conducted world premieres of nearly 40 new works.

A great part of Jamesí achievement came as the result of earning the highest admiration and respect of his orchestra members through his musical sensitivity and talent, self-discipline and biting wit. Many attribute his success as a conductor to his ability to inspire musicians to raise their level of performance.

The impact of his lifeís work has been clearly felt throughout the state and the country. His studentsí devotion and respect for Jamesí teaching is passed on in music ensembles throughout the country. The thousands of students and gradstudents who benefited from his musicianship are joined by countless audience members who experienced his magical ability to inspire an orchestra towards truly unanimous expression.

James is survived by many close students, friends and colleagues, and all who played under his baton or heard one of his performances. For those close enough to call him friend, his greatness of heart and generosity were humbling.

Memorials may be directed to the Dixon/Hibbard Scholarship Fund at the University of Iowa Foundation, P.O. Box 4550, Iowa City, IA 52244-4550.


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