James D. Hicks lives and works out of Califon, NJ, USA. He holds degrees in music from the Peabody Institute of Music of Johns Hopkins University, Yale University, and the University of Cincinnati. Other studies include courses at the Royal School of Church Music in England. He is an Associate of the American Guild of Organists.
Hicks was Director of Music at The Presbyterian Church, Morristown, NJ from 1985–2011, where he conducted many of the church's ensembles, administered the concert series, and served as organist.
Jim has appeared as a concert organist throughout the United States, Europe, New Zealand, and Australia. Over the past decade, he has made 11 recordings on the Pro Organo label. The first, American Classic Fantastic, was recorded at the Presbyterian Church in Morristown, NJ in 2003, and demonstrates the extensive rebuild of that instrument from the 1990s, a project that Hicks oversaw. This disc features several world premiere recordings of twentieth and twenty-first-century American repertoire, including two original works. The National Public Media program Pipedreams, hosted by Michael Barone, has broadcast several of the tracks from American Classic Fantastic, and it has received considerable notice in the media.
Over the past several years, Jim has intensively researched a relatively unknown and unexplored corner of the organ repertoire: the music of Nordic countries. The series is called Nordic Journey and is now an ongoing endeavor. The series seeks to commission new works from some of the leading composers from northern Europe (40 commissioned works thus far), discover unpublished and, hitherto, unknown works from previous eras, highlight compositions that have never been recorded, as well as celebrating a few of the standard masterpieces of the Nordic school.
The original Nordic Journey was a two-cd release, recorded in January 2010 on the historic Setterquist organ at Linköping Cathedral, Linköping, Sweden. The program features the series' first commissioned work, Variations for Organ, by Swedish composer Fredrik Sixten. The program mixes a more standard repertoire with many works that have never been recorded, including Sixten's modern-day masterpiece, Messa Misteriosa. Pro Organo released Nordic Journey in June 2010.
In the summer of 2013, Jim traveled to Sweden for the purpose of adding three more volumes to the Nordic Journey series. Volume II, entitled The Nordic Symphonic Tradition, was recorded on the magnificent Äkerman & Lund organ at St. Johannes Church, Malmö, Sweden. This disc is devoted to works of the late-romantic era and is notable for the world premiere recordings of unpublished works by Finnish composer Viljo Mikkola and the Swedish musician Erik Alvin.
Volume III is entitled Swedish Folkways and Classic Traditions and juxtaposes twentieth century works written in a neo-classic style with compositions informed by the folk music of that country. Uppsala-based composer, Mårten Jansson contributed the disc's commissioned work, A Part of My Heritage, a composition that Jim premiered on Swedish National Radio in March 2012. Other notable contributions to Volume III include the world premiere recording of Fredrik Sixten's 2012 Toccata & Fugue on BACH. The colorful 1964 Poul-Gerhard Andersen organ of Skara Cathedral, Skara, Sweden served as the perfect vehicle for this repertoire.
This trilogy of recordings from 2013 concludes with Modern Masters, recorded on the Åkerman & Lund organ at Västerås Cathedral, Västerås, Sweden as Nordic Journey, Volume IV. World premiere recordings on this disc include Norwegian composer Kjell Mørk Karlsen's Sinfonia Norvegica and three commissioned works by Fredrik Sixten: Passacaglia for Organ, Lamentation for Organ, and a work for two sopranos and organ with a text by St. Francis, Canticle of the Sun.
The Nordic Journey series has received considerable media coverage, including an entire program on the NPM show Pipedreams, hosted by Michael Barone, and two interviews on Wisconsin Public Radio, all in 2014. Pipedreams continued to broadcast many tracks from the more recent Nordic Journey discs throughout 2016 and 2017. The Belgian based Organroxx Radio has also broadcast several of the Nordic Journey discs during this time, as did the St. Louis American Guild of Organists Chapter.
Kalmar Cathedral, Kalmar, Sweden was the venue for 2015's Nordic Journey, Volume V—Many Landscapes. Recorded in April of that year and released in September, this double CD lives up to its title by including organ compositions that span the entire northern world: works from Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. Five pieces composed by Sven-Ingvart Mikkelsen, Fredrik Sixten, Kjell Mørk Karlsen, Pauli í Sandagerði, and Thomas Åberg were composed specifically for Many Landscapes. The unique nature of this edition of Nordic Journey was enhanced by it being the premiere recording of the cathedral's Tostareds organ, built in 2013. Jim supported this release by performing 20 concerts at music festivals throughout the Nordic world in 2015.
The music of Finland is the subject of Nordic Journey, Volume VI, released in September 2016. This double disc was recorded in June of the same year at two locations in Turku, the ancient capital of Finland. Disc one features the 1980 Virtanen organ of Turku Cathedral, the most historic location of the country. Two commissioned works by contemporary Finnish composers, Mauri Viitala and Santeri Siimes, plus several multi-movement, previously unknown works from the Romantic era form the basis of this part of the release. The colorful 2002 Gronlunds organ at St. Michael's, Turku was the perfect vehicle for a program of smaller works of contrasting styles, including the four organ compositions of Jack Mattsson, a transcription of a work by Jean Sibelius, and two pieces by St. Michael's organist Marko Hakanpää. Jim promoted Nordic Journey, Volume VI in New Zealand, northern Europe and the United States throughout 2016.
Jim's ongoing recording endeavors continued in 2017 with the August production of Nordic Journey, Volume VII, a project that deployed the three organs of Nidaros Cathedral, Trondheim, Norway. Pro Organo released this double CD in October. The 156-minute program includes music from the time of Johann Sebastian Bach to 2017, also includes commissioned works by Mårten Jansson, Kjell Mørk Karlsen, Sven-Ingvart Mikkelsen, and Fredrik Sixten. Nordic musicians joining Jim in these recording sessions were Caroline Eidsten Dahl (recorders), Helena Ek (soprano), Arnulf Johansen (oboe), and Ola Lindseth (violin).
Jim traveled to Reykjavík, Iceland in November, 2018 to record Nordic Journey, Volume VIII, another double CD for Pro Organo. The music of the islands of the Nordic world: Iceland, Faroe Islands, Gotland, and Åland, play a leading role in this program. Volume VIII offers seven commissioned works including Nordic composers as well as other compositions from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The spirit of the country's Norse past may be found in The Vikings, a work by English composer Arthur Wills, and a collection of Icelandic Dances composed by Jón Leifs, and arranged for organ by Hallgrímskirkja organist Björn Steinar Sólbergsson.
In 2018, the Norwegian publisher Cantando Musikkforlag published the first volume of what will be an ongoing project: The Nordic Journey Series, which contains music that Jim has commissioned from Nordic composers.
Just before the worldwide lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Jim continued his musical activities, recording Nordic Journey IX in February 2020 at Olaus Petri Church, Örebro, Sweden. This collection has an all-Swedish program, recorded on the church's historic Åkerman & Lund organ. Jim was joined by Swedish soprano Helena Ek in a performance of commissioned works by Nils LIndberg and Fredrik Sixten, and the church's organist, Mats Bertilsson, who participated in a work written for two organs by Gunnar Thyrestam. Nordic Journey Volume IX also included commissioned works by Swedish virtuoso Gunnar Idenstam and Anders S. Börjesson, as well as the premiere recording of a Romantic Era composition, Passacaglia in F-sharp minor by Herman Åkerberg.
In the same trip, Jim recorded Nordic Journey Volume X, a double-disc set devoted to music from Denmark, using two notable venues in that country: Helligåndskirken, Copenhagen, and St. Morten's Church, Randers. Jim welcomed organist George Chittenden in a performance of a four-hand Fantasi by nineteenth-century composer Gustav Adolf Mankell. Disc one, recorded in Copenhagen, concerns itself with Romantic Era works, plus Carl Nielsen's epic Commotio, while disc two contains music from the Danish Neo-Classic and Contemporary schools. Norsk Musikforlag published Jim's The Nordic Journey Series Volume II in October 2020, a hardbound edition containing thirteen works from Nordic composers, eleven of which are compositions that Jim had commissioned over recent years.
Plans have already been made for the resumption of the recording series, including a November 2021 triple-disc collection, Nordic Journey XI, to be produced on the magnificent Paschen organ, located at Central Pori Church, Pori, Finland. Jim will continue to record new volumes that will be devoted to the music of contemporary Norwegian composer Kjell Mørk Karlsen, and a double-disc set of Finnish Romantic Era works on the historic organ at St. Martin's Church, Turku, Finland in 2022.