James Coleman (1972-2005)
James Donald Coleman (1972-2005), One World Symphony's Principal Violist, died of colon cancer on March 28, 2005. James is remembered for his passion for music (he especially loved teaching music to children), his deep bonds with family and friends, his irresistible sense of humor, his positive and inspiring spirit, and his magnetic presence. Following are some remembrances of James.
James lived with a unique sense of "time." I met James for the first time when he came to play his first rehearsal with One World Symphony. It was June 2003, and he arrived fashionably (two hours) late with the craziest hair, plaid pants, and sunglasses (in the dark sanctuary of St. Ann's!). A year later in June 2004, James started to come two hours early to rehearsals. This gave us some time to talk and get to know each other. James and I shared how we loved certain moments in music. When I reflect on our conversations, most of the works that we loved related to the theme of the "fighting spirit" and "flight." This year's program of Shostakovich's monumental Tenth Symphony and music inspired by Superman evokes human struggles and heroism that soars with a broad and optimistic grandeur.
With his talents and his passion for living, James dedicated his life to spending time with friends and family. James was a fighter. He fought for what he believed in and his contributions of teaching elementary school students and performing in One World Symphony for three years attest to his generous spirit. James touched so many people in such short amount of time. He was a gift, and his life is an inspiration. Our upcoming programming of departure is both a tribute and a remembrance for an outstanding musician and friend, James Coleman. — Sung Jin Hong
The first night I met James, we got lost together on the road driving from a gig in New Jersey to Brooklyn (we ended up at the southern tip of Staten Island due to the fact that we were both directionally challenged). He made me laugh so hard on that drive that I had stomach cramps by the end of the ride. But perhaps that was from the food that we ate Ñ late night McDonald's; it was at this time that James divulged his deepest darkest secret: his clandestine love for Filet-O-Fish sandwiches. We didn't get home until 2:30 a.m., but it didn't matter, as we had embarked upon a wonderful friendship. We talked about so many things in that car, from his favorite cat, his childhood years in Boston, to his respect and love for his parents; he always spoke so highly of his mother and father. He also recounted his move to New York City, where he drove a van carrying the equipment for his band, "Pop," at approximately 80 mph when a wheel fell off the car on the highway Ñ James managed to stay cool under pressure, naturally, and guided the car and band equipment safely to the side of the road. Over the next two years, we taught many children how to play the violin together, we went out for dinner and drinks at the end of long days and laughed for hours, played chamber music and orchestral music together and performed in Carnegie Hall. James had the uncanny ability to make you feel like you'd known him for your whole life, even if you'd just met him two hours before. I miss him. I miss his laughter, his incredible sense of humor, his musicianship and his honesty. I knew him for an instant, but I will remember him and cherish his friendship for a lifetime. Here's to you, James. — Claire Smith
James was my "partner in crime" as observed by Sung Jin. We would occasionally arrive to rehearsal late, take long coffee breaks and always joke around back stage. We were friends at CCM and when I moved to the city a few years ago, James really made NY home for me. All of the orchestras I'm in can be credited to his networking for me and all of my favorite shops and restaurants were discovered while on fabulous shopping ventures with James. — Marisa Sakaguchi
What did I write about James in my "Favorite One World Symphony Moment?" Oh, yeah: Violist James Coleman loudly tapping his foot to keep the violins on the off-beats in Brahms First Symphony performance. That still holds. I would also like to add: Whenever I saw James, just a few times a month, we would resume our conversation as if we'd seen each other yesterday. We tended to riff on the theme of becoming true to oneself and shedding masks and pretenses. My first impression of James was a larger-than-life character, peppery and opinionated, which over time seemed to evolve into a more open and generous being, possessed of a kind of 360-degree awareness. I'm happy to note that he persisted in wearing striped pants. When playing with him I was unable to be anywhere but present in the music. James inspired me and still does. — Catherine Bent
James Coleman was a passionate musician and a warm and thoughtful friend. He will be greatly missed. — David Grunberg
James was our resident violist, humanitarian, repository of joy, and our chef! We loved him as part of our family, and miss him deeply. — dek & hck
James and I became close very quickly, because he knew from the moment he heard my message on his answering machine that we were "meant to make music together." He was a loving, reliable friend. His amazing ability and his flair for performance continue to inspire me. — Rob Ward
In the short time I knew James he made a huge impression on me with his warm and generous spirit. As a member of his section in One World, James made me feel welcome and secure because he was such a natural leader. I think this ability was due to another wonderful aspect of James's personality which was his incredible strength of character. I remember another One World rehearsal when we were playing Stravinsky's Firebird and James' stand-partner had not arrived yet with the music so, without hesitating, James played his part from memory. His enthusiasm for the music was contagious. There's something else about James that I can't really put into words. Whatever it is, it's the thing that makes me think of him fondly every day now. And I know it's a gift that not everyone possesses. I am grateful to have known and made music with James. — Johanna Beaver
James kept following me around. We both studied at Eastman, at schools in Ohio and with Heidi Castleman. He moved to Florida a year after I came to play in the Florida West Coast Symphony and then to New York, also to play in a rock band and teach kids in Harlem. We didn't spend a lot of time together, we would always just be running into each other, and using the time to catch up. We both knew there must be some sort of connection between us, because with James it was like an old friend and it would always seem as if no time had passed. Our heads always seemed to be in similar places, and we would fuel each other's inspiration and comfort each other in stressful times. James, I know I will follow you eventually, and I only hope I can use your great big generous spirit to guide me along my way — Leanne Darling
I met James last summer at the Bard Conducting Institute Ñ I am a flutist from New York City and we drove up together. There was something about James from the moment I met him Ñ a certain warmth and sparkle. We hit it off immediately and shared a lot of laughs last summer. James had this overwhelming love for life — I miss him so much. — Jill Sokol
James and I had two favorite games Ñ one was talking with a Wisconsin accent, and the other was pretending to be REALLY SERIOUS classical musicians. I mean, ridiculously serious. We'd be in orchestra together making subtle (yet, over the top) gestures. We'd play with too much vibrato, toss our hair around and sway back and forth. I don't think anyone else thought it was funny, but we'd be holding back the tears from laughing so hard. He's the reason why I'll never get an orchestra job and keep it. How will I be able to look at the viola section and not think about our little stupid joke? I'll get kicked out of the first rehearsal for laughing! That's a good memory. Thanks, homieÉ — Tarrah Reynolds
James laughed at nearly everything I said. James made me feel like I was one of the funniest people he'd ever met. I mean, I have often thought that I was a funny personÉ but the way James would laugh I would often wonderÉ "Gosh, could I really be that funny?" It always made me happy to see James because the laughter would always begin Ñ on both sides. Not that I ever felt any pressure or anything to be funny Ñ on the contrary, James had a way of putting me at ease (and if you have ever met me you would know that that is quite a feat!) and the laughter would just come naturally. I knew that James found laughter to be as important as I did. Additionally, James really gave me so much support and reassurance in my potential as a singer. He really knew how to make someone feel special. I enjoyed being around James and I really wish that I had spent more time laughing together. I miss his dynamic and jovial presence very much. — Adrienne Metzinger-Hong
James was a beautiful spirit who was public domain, but made everyone he touched feel special and loved and cared for. James came into my life for a summer at Aspen in 1998 and I thought of him often in the four years until our next meeting in New York City in 2002. This would be the meeting that would turn into a friendship, the likes of which I'd never known before. James taught me about life and true living! He taught me about how a friendship works, about how to truly let life in and give life out. He wouldn't give up on me and who and what he knew I was capable of as a person, a spirit, and a musician. He loved me and I will always love him. "Take care of and worry about only what you can control, and that's you," he once told me. I think of that advice often and smile. See you later, my friend. — Edith Yokley