Instructor Postpones Retirement to Lead FCC Choir

Story By: Kerina Ornelas

Foxx relaxes in his chair with a smile on his face, surrounded by photos covering the walls and shelves of books holding videos and music, but nothing in the small office belongs to him.

In his first semester at Fresno City College, Jim Foxx, a choir instructor, is substituting in the College Choir and the City Singer classes for Prof. Julie Dana while she’s on sabbatical.

This sub isn’t a young, fresh-from-the-university, 20-something instructor either. The Pennsylvania native has taught since 1965 and is currently taking a break from retirement and now using Dana’s office.

Mike Dana, chair of the music department, has confidence in Foxx. From working previously at several schools in Arkansas and California, including Clovis, he was not only qualified but the first choice for the job, Dana said, calling him dedicated and extremely organized.

“Jim comes to department meetings when he isn’t required to be present,” said Dana, “but he likes to know what’s going on and wants to be involved.”

“Substituting” is the word for Foxx this spring. He is also filling in for an instructor on sabbatical at Fresno State.

“This is called retirement!” Foxx joked.

Directing Fresno College Choir and City Singers in addition to the school choir at Fresno State does not overwhelm him. On the contrary, it excites him.

With a full college choir that fills up the rehearsal hall, Foxx looks forward to the group’s first performance on Feb. 26, an Advanced Voice Recital called “Cycles and Sets”.  Shortly after, Foxx and his choir will tackle a more intense performance on March 6 and 7, which includes Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 9”, an 18-minute German piece that is high, long and loud.

His students have their fair share of pressure. “This thing is huge! It’s like an elephant. How am I going to eat it?” some of the students would say. “Piece by piece,” Foxx would reply. “Before you know it, we’ve learned the whole thing.”

That’s his philosophy: He tries to lessen the burden in the class which gives students a sense of belonging, something the instructor has sought for in his own life.

With a father in the Air Force, his family constantly traveled. Foxx spent three years at Wichita High School West in Kansas. His senior year, he split time between New Smyrna Beach High School in Florida and, two weeks before graduating, Pepperrill Air Force Base in Newfoundland.

Foxx taught for 21 years in two Arkansas districts where a new educational program was developed but lacked finances to continue. With decreased funds, the schools let go of nearly half of their staff and axed many extracurricular activities, music being the first one to go.

Having a continued passion for music, a subject he considers an essential part of education, Foxx answered a national search for choir instructors conducted in Clovis. The move proved beneficial when Clovis Unified held on to its music programs, remaining a strong part of the overall curriculum to this day. Foxx continued teaching the choir for 18 years and even taught a hand-bell class.

In 2004, Foxx decided to retire. Immediately following his retirement, Clovis Adult School chose him to teach a senior adult choir class and hand bells class. Last semester, he took over for 12 weeks for an instructor that resigned from Clovis West High School. His substituting positions continued from there.

In his classroom, Foxx says that he tries to create a comfortable environment, one in which everyone can equally express themselves. But once everyone hears the first few keys tap on the piano, it’s down to business.

“It’s not going to happen by osmosis,” Foxx said. “You’ve got to do it.