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Neighbors: A passion for music, teaching
passion for music

Neighbors: A passion for music, teaching


Jim McMahon remembers as a middle school student the thrill he experienced playing his trumpet in front of a crowd in Twin Falls, Idaho.

As the director of choral activities at Simle Middle School in Bismarck, his goal is to create an environment and atmosphere for the hundreds of young singers to experience the same fun, adrenalin and exhilaration of performing on stage.

“With my own experience of music and being at the age of middle school when I discovered that I was really moved (by music),” McMahon said. “The thrill of performing live you can become more self motivated as you begin to have more experiences that are moving.”

After graduating high school in Twin Falls, McMahon was already an accomplished classical, jazz and funk trumpet player. His trumpet playing abilities “wrote the ticket” for an invitation to nationally recognized jazz festivals and landed him with a music scholarship at the University of Mary. Now at Simle for the past 11 years, he manages the choral department totaling hundreds of students in seven choirs and a pop-singing ensemble.

Over the years McMahon also has become involved in Bismarck's music scene. From once as the principal trumpet player in the Bismarck-Mandan Symphony Orchestra, a faculty member at the International Music camp, to joining a local funk/jazz band. He now teams with his brother, Phil, as a folk duo singing their own compositions and also directs a choir for the Central Dakota Children's Choir and is in an instrumental quartet.

All of this requires energy, passion, the desire to teach young people and a whole lot of time management. McMahon has all of those and more.

“It’s all about energy,” McMahon said. “I feel like the energy I give (students) they’ll give back. I need to engage students, especially to this age you need to engage them. It’s all about motivating people to do something. ... Getting people motivated for a cause. I think that's one of the neat things about teaching choir because it's something greater.”

Getting each choir to evolve from an uncertain collection of timid, untrained vocals into an adhesive group coming together to fold their tonal ranges and confident voices into a full harmonic sound as one voice is what McMahon strives to do from every rehearsal to the final performance.

“The power of music has always been intriguing. The value and importance of everybody contributing and the power of getting a certain amount of people together to do anything is powerful. I want them to subscribe to that togetherness and to work together to make something happen.”

To make that happen, McMahon uses a simple formula to balance discipline and enjoyment for his students. It doesn’t hurt that his enthusiasm, a personality full of animated gestures and passion for music and teaching makes the choir room a creative and rewarding destination.

“Every rehearsal should have laughter and focus. The concert is a release from all the hard work.”

(Reach Mike McCleary at 701-250-8206 or


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