Chorus Member Profile


Jim Baxter

30-Year Chorus Member: Jim Baxter

Jim Baxter, who is celebrating an impressive thirty years as a member of the May Festival Chorus, is no stranger to adventure. Throughout his life, he has claimed many titles – singer, carpenter, scientist, gardener, world traveler, and outdoorsman. From hitchhiking through France to directing an industrial hygiene laboratory, one thing is constant; Jim is always ready for a new experience.

He comes by his adventurous spirit honestly, having traveled to the remote town of Gowganda, Ontario, for vacations at Sportsmen’s Camp since the age of eleven. Wilderness fishing and skies full of bright stars distinguish this Baxter family tradition, which began with Jim’s father in the 1950s, and has continued into its fourth generation now to include Jim’s children AND grandchildren. Few things have changed at Sportsmen’s Camp over the years, but the route there has definitely improved with the development of paved roads.

Jim’s free-spirited style led to a college education spanning three decades, and it was his first college experience at the University of Wisconsin-Madison that solidified his love of choral singing. Under the direction of renowned conductor Robert Fountain, Jim particularly enjoyed performing Beethoven’s Mass in C with the University’s chorus – an experience that would connect him with the May Festival twenty years later.  

After his years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Jim took some time to find his calling. He spent time working as a carpenter and a short order cook, and even went hitchhiking through France. He eventually settled into his second college experience at the University of Utah, where he earned a master’s degree in public health, with a concentration in industrial hygiene. In other words, Jim’s expertise lies in researching and analyzing the levels of noise, danger, contaminants, and other potential health risks present in various work environments. He began working in a laboratory in connection with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the research arm of OSHA, and eventually spent about fourteen years in Utah. Outside of work, he enjoyed Utah’s remote areas, wildlife, and landscapes, which all reminded him of the adventures he had as a kid in Ontario.

Eventually, he was transferred to a position in Cincinnati, which provided him with opportunities for professional growth and brought him closer to his family in Buffalo, New York. In a lab full of data-centric scientists, Jim’s superiors noticed that he had a unique sense of leadership and understanding of interpersonal relationships. As a result, he was awarded a director position at the lab. This is also where he met a lovely young lady from England named Val, who had also transferred to the Cincinnati area for her work with General Electric (GE) and Rolls Royce. The two would eventually marry and settle down in the Blue Ash area.

While his move to Cincinnati had both personal and professional benefits for Jim, his usual hobby of disappearing into the woods for some respite and renewal was not as easily accessible as it was in Utah. He needed to find a new hobby. In 1991, Jim heard that the May Festival would be performing Beethoven’s Mass in C, which he thoroughly enjoyed as a student in Wisconsin, and he decided to attend the performance. He was inspired to revisit his love of choral singing to help fill his need for adventure. The following fall, he auditioned with Director of Choruses Robert Porco, who noticed his experience at University of Wisconsin-Madison with Robert Fountain, and Jim has been a member of the May Festival Chorus ever since.

After being the one to make all the big decisions at work and leading the tough conversations, rehearsal with the May Festival Chorus provides some relief for Jim. Instead of being responsible for the whole group, he just has to listen carefully, follow direction, and sing his part, and everything turns out beautifully.

“It is so relaxing for me to just do what I am told. Music is something you try to do perfectly, but there is always room to improve with all the dynamics and complexities… unlike vacuuming.”

Jim retired from the lab in 2012, and these days you can find him tending his garden, reading great literature, or planning visits across the globe to see his family. With children in Idaho and Oregon, he has plenty of reasons to visit the Pacific Northwest, and Val’s family draws them to Europe for adventures across the pond. A recent favorite vacation to Portofino, Italy, produced this gorgeous photo of Jim and Val. (Jim assures us that this is not a studio background, although it clearly could be!)

Join us in congratulating Jim on his 30th anniversary of singing with the May Festival Chorus! Jim’s sense of humor and adventure are incredible assets to our family of singers, and we look forward to many more years with our dear friend Jim.

Get to know Jim better by listening to some of his favorite tunes on Spotify, and explore the 2021 May Festival season here.