Wednesday, May 07, 2008


I'm profoundly saddened by the death of violinist James Ceasar.
[Jim is pictured at the right in the Brevard Festival Orchestra with conductor Henry Janiec and soloist Robert McDuffie]
In some ways, I've always been a Ceasar student. My first private teacher was Les Morrison, who taught me in 5th grade, and was one of Jim's students in Derby (Les was a high school senior himself, who wrote difficult etudes for me to play!)

In 7th grade, I took lesssons from Teresa Hiser, and went from 4th chair second violins to concertmaster. Teresa was a knockout, I had a big crush on her, and remember her playing Mendelssohn Concerto for me, and helping her figure out her teaching schedule! She was one of Jim's students, both her and her best friend Dana Venable, were stars at Wichita State, from Derby. (Dana is now married to a good friend, Galen Wixson, a fabulous cellist turned orchestra administator in Arkansas.)

After Teresa I went to Larry Dissmore, who was studying at WSU with Nancy Luttrell - a student of Jim's, and couldn't fit me in her schedule my freshman year in high school, so a year with Larry was productive (and I went to the back of the 1st violin section in high school.)

The next year, and throughout high school, I studied with Nancy Luttrell, associate concertmaster of the Wichita Symphony and stand partner of Jim Ceasar's for a long time, besides student. (I also rose to 3rd chair first violins [an outside seat behind the concertmaster for the next two years, and then became concertmaster] in Youth Symphony I was in the firsts, winding up in 5th chair my senior year.) Jim retired before I got to college and Andrzej Grabiec took over at WSU and at the Wichita Symphony.

Later when Grabiec left WSU for Rochester, there was a revolving door of teachers, so I went back to Nancy. It was Nancy who suggested I go study myself with Ceasar at Brevard Music Camp in North Carolina. I did for two summers, as an A.D. student and the following summer as a counselor. It was alot of playing, and alot of fun. Jim was always quick to point out that I focused on fun, but he certainly had lots to teach me.

It was two summers there that I really saw his best side, playing with kids and making a real difference - and telling stories - from the Glenn Miller Band to George Szell, who had him play in the Cleveland Orchestra. Jim took the job at Wichita State and taught several generations of violinists - I even ran into a Ceasar student when I moved to Harrisburg, who plays in the York Symphony.

After those two years, I studied with Jim off and on, for a lesson here and there, often before an important performance, and we also became social friends. At one point I lived a few blocks away, and he would invite me over for dinner. It would always be awesome food, and stories about Heifetz, Jack Benny or something local - I got alot of good perspective on conductors from Jim.

Later I had a roommate in college who Jim took a liking to who was from Norway (Jim's wife was Norwegian) and he would invite us both over, usually to try and set us up with Norwegian exchange students (unfortunately Ras and I were too old for these beautiful blonde high school students) but we always had fun.

Jim was a great man, teacher, husband and musician.

He was a mentor, friend and hero. I'm proud to say I knew Jim and loved him.

1 comment:

Lesley Gould said...

Jim Ceasar was my violin teacher my freshman and sophomore years as well as a life long family friend. My late father Bud was his life long colleague and friend, so they were literally "buds". So were Howard and Barb Ellis and The James Robertson family. Dad died in 2002, my mother in 2007 and Mr. Ceasar in 2008. I was fortunate enough to have the late Maestro Professor Emeritus Jim Robertson as my chamber music coach as a freshman before he tragically succumbed to a long battle with Parkinsons's after the new discovery miracle drug L-Dopa lost it's effect, that was a complete honor to be taught by him and he in turn sang my praises which got back to my Dad. Even Dirksen wept after being reintroduced to me by Howard Ellis, also passed, in 2010 I think, when Howard asked the then frail and elderly man, "You remember "Bud's little girl",don't you Walt?!?" I was a fresh and pretty little blonde gal thing back then in my first professional symphony gown after an afternoon Sunday concert at Century II. Of course everyone knew the legend of Walt Dirksen. Good bye Mr. Ceasar.
Sorry to embarrass you when I was a toddling baby girl and when my babysitter's back was turned I decided I wanted to join the party too and ran up to the chair you sat in and reached my arms up to be picked up and held! Mom nearly fainted, everybody roared with merriment and glee at the pure innocence and hilarity of it all and I wondered why. Gee, just cause that poor hapless babysitter was too busy trying to put on my older brother's PJs first. I least I made you blush and laugh Mr. Ceasar! Gotcha!
I don't remember my father's reaction. He probably vanished into thin air for a 1/2 a second while I blinked or something. Only that my horrified mother scooped me up like in an old B/W silent film and that poor innocent babysitter was sent home in tears.
Lastly, thanks for taking me to lunch when you were trying to woo me to the Music School, for arranging free and safe lodging at a nearby quiet grad dorm, and for giving me the tour of what was offered. I will always cherish the first weekly Ceasar masterclass you took me along as a guest to so I could hear Bob Prokes play the Sibelius, and to observe a closed Wichita Symphony Orchestra rehearsal up close and personal.
I couldn't wait to get back there.
Sorry it I couldn't stay but my old neighborhood just turned too
,well you know, shall we say unpleasant? But never mind that, I had the time of my life!