The American choral conductor, tenor, and educator, James Lee Fankhauser, studied at Purdue University (engineering: 1957-1958); Southwestern College in Kansas (music programe: 1958-1960); Columbia University (1955-1960); and Oberlin College Conservatory (1960-1962), where he obtained his Bachelor of Music degree in 1962. In 1962, he was awarded a Fulbright Grant which enabled him to pursue graduate studies in vocal performance in London at the Royal Academy of Music and choral conducting with Sir David Lumsden at New College, University of Oxford in (1962-1963). He returned to the USA to attend the University of California, Berkeley where he studied musicology (1963-1966).
After the first year he was appointed Director of the University of California men's Glee Club and women's Treble Clef, touring yearly throughout California. He sang several tenor roles in the Berkeley production and professional recording of Monteverdi's opera, L'Incoronazione di Poppea. Graduating in 1966 with an Master of Art in musicology, he received the Eisner Prize for outstanding musical talent. In the summer of 1964 he studied voice on a scholarship at the Tanglewood Music Center where he gained the opportunity to perform as a soloist at the Tanglewood Music Festival.
James Fankhauser was active as a choral conductor at the University of California, Berkeley (1965-1966). In 1966 he joined the faculty as a sabbatical replacement for Professor Iva Dee Hiatt at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts where he conducted choirs and taught voice during the 1966-1967 school year. He accepted a job at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York where he taught music theory and conducted the university's choirs from 1967 to 1973. During this period a great performance of the W.A. Mozart's Vespers K. 339 under his baton (with the famous Paul Kuentz orchestra) was recorded and issued on a now very rare LP.
James Fankhauser is primarily known for his work within the field of choral music in Canada, for which he has gained international recognition. In 1973, he left Hamilton College and moved to Canada to join the voice and choral conducting faculty at the University of British Columbia (UBC) where he where he remained as Professor of voice and conducting in 1991. He directed the UBC University Singers for many years during which time the group won several singing competitions, including the CBC National Radio Competition in 1994, which led to the BBC's International Radio Competition at which they were out-sung by the Norwegians. But in 1995 they went to the prestigious Marktoberdorf International Chamber Choir competition, where they won First Prize against choirs from many countries in Europe and Asia. The University of British Columbia Singers have recorded three albums under Fankhauser, one with works by J.S. Bach, Bruckner and others (Praise US-1978) and the others featuring works by Chatman, Ramona Luengen, Raminsh, Watson Henderson, Weisgarber, Eugene Wilson and others (University Singers U-1 and University Singers '84 unnumbered).
In 1973 James Fankhauser became also the music director of the Vancouver Cantata Singers (VCS), remaining in that position until 2000. Under his leadership the VCS won several notable music competitions, including the BBC International Choral Competition and the CBC National Radio Competition for Amateur Choirs. He has made several recording with VCS, one of which was nominated for a Juno Award in 1994. The choir has also appeared numerous times on Canadian television and radio under his direction. In 1981 the choir won the BBC's International Choral Competition, "Let the people sing," winning the Israeli Silver Cup for best performance. The Cantata Singers made three professional CD's over the years: Venetian Vespers of 1640 (Antonio Rigatti), Skylark Records; A 1640 Venetian Mass (Rigatti), an Analekta fleurs de lys recording; and Abendlied, a Carus-Verlag recording featuring Josef Rheinberger's choral music. The Venetian Vespers of 1640 won the Association of Canadian Choral Conductor's 1994 National Choral Award: Outstanding Choral Recording.
James Fankhauser has also served as clinician (1980, 1981) and as principal conductor (1987) for Saskatchewan Sings; he was director (1983) of the Manitoba Youth Choir Camp and has participated in many workshops in Alberta and British Columbia. Fankhauser, an energetic, sensitive conductor, gains enthusiastic response from his choirs; he has made a significant contribution to the quality of choral singing in western Canada.