James McDonald, a native of Iowa, earned all his degrees from Iowa institutions. His MM and DMA were completed at the University of Iowa, where he studied with Herald Stark. He also studied at the Hochschule fuer Musik in Munich, Germany for three years as the result of receiving a Fulbright Scholarship and a grant from the German Academic Exchange Service. Additional studies were at Aspen and on several occasions at the Britten-Pears School in England, where he studied with Sir Peter Pears, Eric Crozier, John Shirley-Quirk, and Gerhard Huesch.
His many performances in the United States and in Europe include appearances at the International Handel Festival in Halle, Germany; performances at the Library of Congress; and performances under many conductors, including Rafael Fruebeck de Burgos, at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. He was also a member of the Theater Chamber Players of Kennedy Center, a group founded by Dina Kosten and Leon Fleischer, which specializes in the performance of chamber music from earliest times to the present.
He moved to Colorado from Boston, where he taught at the New England Conservatory of Music. Prior to that he was Professor of Voice for 10 years at Indiana University, and prior to that, Professor of Voice for 19 years at the University of Maryland, where he helped create the Maryland Opera Studio and where he was also chair of the Voice/Opera Department for 11 of those years. His students are successfully teaching and performing in the U.S. and in Europe. Some have won prestigious competitions such as the Metropolitan Opera Competition, and many have performed with prestigious Young Artist programs across the United States.
He spent many years as the Director of the German for Singers and Vocal Coaches Program at Middlebury College in Vermont. This relatively new program is part of the highly regarded intensive language training programs which have been offered at Middlebury College for almost 100 years. Additionally, he taught Master Classes at the Music Academy in Baku, Azerbaijan, served as a voice teacher at the Britten-Pears School, and participated in the Princeton summer programs as a Master Class teacher. He also had the honor of being chosen to be one of the NATS Master Teachers in the Intern program.
His influence on American voice students spans decades and leaves a lasting legacy of excellence.