William & Mary

Backstory-James I. Armstrong

James Armstrong, photo by Steve SalpukasEducation: A.B., Princeton University; M.Mus. and D.M.A., the University of Wisconsin-Madison

Family: Wife, Jamie Bartlett, associate professor of music, associate director of choirs. Children, Robert, 14, Caecilia, 12.


What is your favorite popular song? Almost anything by James Taylor. I love his songs and I love his singing. And I just went to a Pat Benatar concert.


Do you have a favorite Touring Choir memory? There are so many. There was a wonderful performance that we gave in Stockholm at a central church that I will never forget. It’s a church that’s known for choral music and the choir sang, can I say, perfectly. 


What do you do as director of choirs? I look after all of the choral offerings in the music department — the Women’s Chorus and the Botetourt Singers, conducted by Jamie Bartlett, and the W&M Choir, which I conduct. In our more than 70 appearances annually, the choirs provide a public face for the institution both domestically and internationally.


Why do you think the choir continues to be so popular after all these years?  I think it is because they are woven completely into the life of the College and the campus. First of all, they come as students from all the different disciplines to sing. This isn’t a choir made up only of music majors and we like it that way. They tend to stick with it and build friendships for life. I think we have had as many as 10 or 11 marriages come out of the choir just during my time. I’ve stopped counting. The choir mirrors the kind of community that people value here at the College. 


What is one of the most unusual song requests you have had? Here’s a nonrequest: Her Majesty, the Queen of England, asked us not to sing “God Save the Queen” or any British literature so we sang a spiritual, “My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord,” for her when she came in 2007.


What is your favorite song that the W&M Choir sings?  Well, they would say that their favorite is “Shenandoah” because we sing it perpetually. It entered the repertoire sometime after 1971 and it hasn’t been out since. I try to change all the other repertoire, so my favorite things are the pieces that I am working on now. 


Interview by Melissa V. Pinard