Memorials

Remembering Elmer Bernstein

Memorial Speech

I want to thank the Bernstein family for giving me the honor of saying a few words about my friend and colleague, Elmer. While we met only a four and five times over the last ten years or so, we were undeniably friends.

He was a composer whose work I admired and a man with whom I shared a special bond. We did not spend nearly enough time together, knew little of each other’s personal lives, never expressed to one another in words our private dreams and fears. Yet I had a long running, deep sense of connection to him. I imagine that many of the untold millions of people who heard his music over so many years feel similarly.

Elmer’s music exudes humanity-a profound understanding of life and human spirit-a sense of nobility of character so clear and complete that anyone hearing it couldn’t help but feel they knew the beautiful soul who created it. And if any of those people had the opportunity to meet him, they would have soon seen that the man was like the music-full of dignity, grace and a sparkling clarity about who he was.

That Elmer took an interest in my work continues to console and comfort me during my many periods of self -doubt. I told him but he couldn’t really have understood to what extent he influenced and inspired me. That one day I write one melody as memorable as so many of his-that is my dream. That one day I will learn to conduct myself with the dignity and uncompromising professionalism with which he lived his life-that is my dream.

The last time I saw Elmer was earlier this year when the two of us did a Q and A together at Disney Hall. We were sitting in the Green Room talking before the event it was apparent that Elmer wasn’t well. During a pause in our conversation, he wistfully and said: “You know, James, after 250 movies I can honestly say that there is no other way that I would rather have spent my life.” He was a lucky man.

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