Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Mentors: Mr. Ceasar

We start a new series of writings, focusing on people who influence our lives...Mentors.
Today we hear from KPAC host John Clare.

One of the influential people in my life was 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. She was one of Jim's students, both her and her best friend Dana Venable, were stars at Wichita State, and were from Derby where I grew up.

After Teresa I went to study with Larry Dissmore, who in turn was studying at W.S.U. with Nancy Luttrell - a student of Jim's, and Nancy 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 being one of his star students. I also rose to 3rd chair first violins in high school orchestra [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 to study. 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 was fond of, who was from Norway (Jim's wife was Norwegian) and he would invite us both over, and 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.

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