Nissen, fifty-one, explains that "Run!" was inspired by a bizarre dream in which he was chased by Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich. "That one wrote itself in a week," says Nissen, who tries to compose at least one piece a year for the band. "But usually I have to work my ass off."
And work he does. In addition to directing the AACB, he teaches in the music department at U-M Dearborn and in the humanities department at Schoolcraft College and is music director at First Congregational Church. "He's a triple threat"--as a conductor, organist, and teacher--says U-M music prof Marilyn Mason, who's known "Jimmy" since he was a U-M student.
Nissen's drive and his talents have led to performances at Chartres Cathedral and Notre Dame in France and in Coventry, England--and even at Cary Grant's eightieth birthday party in Paris. But Nissen always finds his way back home to Ann Arbor, which he calls "the greatest city on Earth"--and to his regular teaching gigs: up to thirteen sections of arts, music, and humanities classes at the two schools.
"Put me in the trenches," Nissen says. "I like teaching best...I want to retire being the best teacher I can be." In the spring, he'll lead a group of Schoolcraft students on an annual ten-day international field study, which he initiated--this year to Paris. Prior to departure, the class studies the region's music and art history, and Nissen often arranges to play the organ at one of the stops.