The Baker Orange

Funkhouser a treasure at BU

Story by Sarah Baker, Editor

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He has many titles to his name: composer, musician, mentor, student, teacher and veteran. From Juilliard to the U.S. Army Signal Corps, he has studied and performed across the country.

Associate Professor of Music Robin Liston calls him one of Baker’s hidden gems and a colleague.

“He studied with people that are famous in that world, the real greats,” Liston said. “Here in Baldwin City, we are lucky and have this little treasure of a composer.”

Instructor of Music Jim Funkhouser was born in New Hampshire in 1933 to a cellist and a singer. Growing up, he was always surrounded by music.

When he was very young, his family invited a visiting musician to dinner one night. The man started to play the piano, with young Funkhouser sitting on his knees, but at one point, he realized the man was playing the piano with fruit. The man had an orange in each hand and was rolling them on the keys. This is the moment Funkhouser decided he wanted to learn how to play an instrument.

In the late ’40s, while attending Andover Academy and the University of New Hampshire, Funkhouser started taking lessons from Walter Macdonald, 2nd horn in the Boston Symphony. Every Sunday, he would listen to the radio and appreciate the New York Philharmonic. This admiration led Funkhouser to Juilliard School of Music in New York City.

“My whole goal was to study with James Chambers, principal horn in the New York Philharmonic,” Funkhouser said. “Chambers was at Juilliard [School of Music]. I was aiming for him and got Juilliard.”

There, he took classes in composition from Bernard Wagenaar and theory classses from Vincent Persichetti and studied horn with Chambers. The only pause in Funkhouser’s study came when he needed braces, but even that didn’t stop his determination. Funkhouser graduated in 1956 with a Bachelor of Science degree.

Later that year, he joined the U.S. Army Signal Corps Band for two years before moving to Canada, where he played in the Calgary Philharmonic for a season. Following this adventure, he and his wife settled in Kansas City, where he played horn in the Kansas City Philharmonic and worked with the youth symphony.

Funkhouser left the Kansas City Philharmonic in 1970 and the youth symphony in 1975. He continued teaching students in Prairie Village, at the University of Kansas and at Missouri Western State University.

It was at the start of the First Gulf War that Funkhouser started to compose again.

“I was moved and I started [composing] again,” Funkhouser said. “I wrote a piece, which was premiered by the Kansas City Symphony. It was pretty good, actually.”

He, then, rejoined the Kansas City Philharmonic, which, by then, had been renamed the Kansas City Symphony.

After a cumulative 25 years in the Kansas City Symphony, he retired and now teaches a music theory class at Baker and offers occasional private lessons.

Recently, a concert at Baker was held in Funkhouser’s honor. At the concert, his wife, friends and colleagues all performed music he composed, and between the performances, he talked about writing each piece.

Funkhouser created his own publishing firm called Baskerville Press, named after his dog. He has written three violin sonatas, three cello sonatas and two viola sonatas along with works for strings and concertos and solos for almost every instrument.

He encourages his theory students with his experience and life advice, his personal mantra being, “Intent. Commitment. Action.” He relates his mantra to practicing music, saying that you cannot be a successful musician without being determined, being committed and practicing for hours each day.

Senior Jacob Mogle took lessons from Funkhouser and said he was an inspiration to him and helped develop him as a musician.

“As a French horn student of Mr. Funkhouser’s during my time at Baker, I have benefited as a musician from his superior musicianship,” Mogle said. “As a person, Funkhouser has shared his wisdom with me, and that has proved to be his most valuable lesson.”

Funkhouser advises Baker students to be well-rounded individuals, to seek out information about the world to become better people.

Liston believes the Baker community should be appreciative of the talent and knowledge Funkhouser brings to the campus, something truly unique.

“It’s a real honor to be a part of this man’s life,” Liston said.

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