Faculty: James Franklin
In dusty, west Texas, nothing should grow. Yet, it’s where musical passion grew in Dr. James Franklin, the director of choral activities and associate professor of music at East Carolina University.
“I think God plants some seeds in us that if they’re cultivated right can become something really wonderful, so I think that seed was planted and then it was just nurtured in the right environment,” Franklin said. “… I was fortunate enough to have the right kind of alignment with great teacher after great teacher after great teacher. There was music in me, and I loved it.”
Franklin credits his choral instructors in elementary, middle and high school in Odessa, Texas, for inspiring him to teach music.
“It was a combination of being able to do something in a profession that you love while also working with and trying to mold and inspire the next generation,” he said. “That would be a great way to spend your career.”
His career includes a Grammy nomination as part of professional choral singing group and multiple awards as director of the ECU Chamber Singers and the University Chorale.
“ECU has a really well-known music program across the country,” Franklin said. “People know and expect there to be good choral music here. For example, we’ve been invited to perform at two national conferences this year. We have a really strong tradition that goes back for a few decades of really high-end musicmaking.”
After teaching in middle and high schools, he moved to the collegiate level and has been at ECU for nine years. He sees similarities between teaching and performing.
“I think with the two, you have this opportunity to connect with the people in front of you,” Franklin said. “You can perform and totally miss the opportunity to connect with the people in front of you or you can grab on to that opportunity. I think teaching is the same way.”
And when the connection is made and students put in the work, the performance can be magical.
“I’m a dad as well, so it’s that feeling of seeing your own kid do something well that makes you proud on the one hand, makes you a little teary at the same time and makes you smile,” Franklin said. “You kind of have this wealth of emotions that you experience. That’s what I experience when I’m on the podium and the students do well, that feeling of extreme pride for the quality of their work, pleasure in how they take things seriously and they want to do well, and the joy that we just got to do this thing together.”
In one performance, Franklin and 42 of his students did not sing in front of a live audience at all. The virtual, one-minute rendition of ECU’s alma mater during the height of COVID-19 in 2020 struck a chord with students, staff, faculty and alumni. Roughly 30,000 people have watched the video on Facebook and YouTube.
“This provided a little outlet for these kids who were kind of starved for music, and it provided a service component because these kids really enjoy this institution,” said Franklin, who gives the credit for the video to Alex Davis, coordinator of audio services in the School of Music. “The fact that they had this musical outlet and were able to give back in some way, I think, was huge and meaningful.”
Under Franklin’s direction, the ECU Chamber Singers have been jury selected to perform at four national choral conferences, have been named finalists at the European Grand Prize for Choral Singing, and placed second in the college/university division for the American Prize in Choral Performance.
Franklin has been recognized as a member of the South Dakota Chorale, a professional ensemble that was nominated for a Grammy in 2017 for its album “Tyberg Masses.” Franklin explained that composer Marcel Tyberg died in a concentration camp during the Holocaust and that his music had been only recently discovered when the chorus recorded it.
“To be able to bring this music to life, out of this tragedy to bring this glimmer of hope, was really fantastic. It’s really beautiful music,” Franklin said.
As for his favorite song, Franklin has a hard time choosing but adores Maurice Duruflé’s “Requiem.”
“I had a student bring it up just last week. It just gets inside you,” he said. “Not only do I love it — it’s one of my favorite works to perform and conduct — but the fact that it’s so memorable to students, it’s just very special.”
Outside of ECU, Franklin enjoys spending time with his wife, Nicole, who is a voice teacher and singer, and their two children, Daniel, an engineering major at ECU, and Catherine, a middle school student. He also enjoys reading, exercising and English Premier League soccer.
“The way the game is played is really beautiful,” he said.
Franklin called ECU and its music program unique.
“What happens here in the School of Music doesn’t happen at every university,” he said. “It’s a really special animal.”
And he believes in the roots he’s planted here.
“There is something about finding what you’re called to do,” Franklin said. “For me, I feel like where I am now is exactly what I was called to be doing. That’s pretty sweet.”
Watch with closed captions on YouTube. Video by Dennis Brathwaite.
Name: James Franklin
Title: Director of choral activities, associate professor of music
Hometown: Odessa, Texas
Colleges attended and degrees: Baylor University, Bachelor of Music Education; Westminster Choir College, Master of Music, Choral Conducting; University of North Texas, Doctor of Musical Arts, Choral Conducting
Years working at ECU: Nine
What I do at ECU: I serve as the director of choral activities, so I oversee all aspects of choral music at the university. I run the graduate program in choral conducting, where we currently have four master’s students. I teach academic courses, including graduate choral literature and undergraduate conducting. I am the director of four major events for high school students and teachers: the Honors Chorus Preparatory Clinic, Choral Invitational for High School Students, Men’s Choir Festival and Summer Choral Workshop.
What I love about ECU: There are many things I love about ECU. I love our campus. I love our location in the state. I love our history and that we were founded with a mission of teaching the young people in this part of the state. I love that we get wonderful students who want to work hard and grow. Most of all, I love that, as a regional state school, we have the opportunity each year to make a substantive impact where we live.
Research interests: Scandinavian and Baltic choral music
What advice do you give to students? In addition to doing the hard course work that comes with the college terrain, think about who you are becoming.
Favorite class to teach? Choir, choir, choir. I direct two ensembles at ECU, the Chamber Singers and the University Chorale, and I really love working with both groups.
What do you like to do when not working? I like to spend time with my family, to exercise and to read.
Last thing I watched on TV: “Shark Tank” — My daughter and I love to see if we can guess what the sharks will say.
First job: Middle school choir teacher in Waco, Texas
Guilty pleasure: English Premiere League football, and by football I mean soccer.