Invasion of Privacy: Professor Jim Kimball shares passion for music, life

Professor James Kimball, a man of many musical experiences, has been providing his generosity and enthusiasm to the Geneseo community since 1976.

Originally from Northern Ohio, family brought Kimball to Western New York where he decided to attend Cornell. Since he was a child, Kimball has always had an interest in music.

"The first instrument I learned to play was my father's ukulele and then my mom's violin," he said. "My dad also took me to old-time Italian concerts and classical performances."

Although graduating with a bachelor's and master's degree in engineering, Kimball took every music course Cornell had to offer while he was there.

Upon graduating from Cornell, Kimball took a turn in the army for three years. Being stationed in Germany provided Kimball with a great opportunity to attend the university there for a year.

"I was free to travel…there was a lot of music…I played the guitar and banjo in bands and I also sang in choirs," said Kimball.

After spending time overseas and exploring his interest in music, Kimball returned to the United States to pursue his Ph.D. in ethnomusicology at Wesleyan University, located in Connecticut.

"Wesleyan had a great World Music program," he said. "There were a lot of different kinds of music [and instruments] that you could study and play…there were visiting artists from India, Africa and Japan."

As part of his graduate work, Kimball had the opportunity to travel oversees to Poland.

"Poland had rural settings; it was very old fashioned. There were farms with horses and no plumbing… my diet consisted of homemade cottage cheese, rye bread, potatoes, hot tea and cabbage, day after day," said Kimball.

While in Poland, he became specifically interested in old-fashioned music.

"I talked with people who had great stories about old dances, parties and music," he said.

Upon arriving to Geneseo, Kimball discovered it very similar to his experience in Poland. "I found that the people had the same stories here…it all related to my research. People talked to me about old time square dancing in fire halls and what old music was like. I loved reading old diaries and newspapers [about the music]," said Kimball.

Kimball has published many articles and reports at conferences. His research focuses on fiddle tunes and old-time square dancing. Students may also find Kimball riding a bike to and from his office in Brodie Hall. He had never wanted to live outside of Geneseo and enjoys riding each day.

Kimball teaches a broad range of courses in the music community, while simultaneously directing the Geneseo String Band. Because involvement in the string band is voluntary, Kimball knows that those who participate in it enjoy it.

"We have a wide variety of audiences…we play for programs at historical societies, local schools, old folks homes, squares-dances, Irish concerts, etc.," he said.

He also said this is the group's 28th anniversary performing at an Irish concert.

Kimball especially enjoys the diverse backgrounds of students and their interest in music.

"There is a lot of talent and bright students here," he said.

Kimball plans on continuing his research in old-time square dance. He has archived recordings, photographs and interviews that he plans on publishing. He also plans on continuing events with his work at community halls and elsewhere.