In Memory

James A. Elsberry VIEW PROFILE

Mar 15, 1940 - Aug 7, 2017

James "Jim" A. Elsberry, age 77, passed away Monday, August 7, 2017 at Nye Legacy Nursing Home. Jim was born in Wausa, NE, on March 15, 1940, to Archie and Grace Elsberry. He attended Wayne State College where he earned a degree in Music Education. He continued his education and attained a graduate degree in Music Education from the University of Northern Colorado at Greeley. He then taught at Underwood High School in Iowa before accepting a teaching position at Benson High School in Omaha. It was during this time that he developed what has become known as the 'Elsberry Sound' which was influenced by the likes of Duke Ellington, George Shearing, and Stan Kenton. He was inducted into the Benson High Hall of Fame in April 2014 for the contributions he made during his tenure. In 1976, Jim accepted a position at Midland Lutheran College as a professor of choral music and jazz studies. During his tenure at Midland, Jim developed a highly respected choral program as evidenced by his excellent Concert Choir and Clef Dwellers vocal jazz ensemble. His ensembles routinely performed on campus, in venues in Omaha and Lincoln, and at major national events such as the University of Northern Colorado Greeley Jazz Festival. He had the unique ability to meet his students where they were and then bring them up to the highest standards of collegiate musical performance. Through his inspired teaching that was energized with a great sense of humour, he was able to imbue in them a deep love for making music. Jim was a major force in the development of jazz education in Nebraska. He created the Midland Jazz Festival, an annual event that brought the best high school jazz bands across the region to campus. Jim also conducted the Midland-Dana Jazz Ensemble, a collaborative big band for students from Midland and Dana Colleges. In addition to his work leading the choral area at Midland, Jim was a visionary teacher of music theory and aural skills, having created most of his own curriculum to develop his students' musicianship to the professional level. His students went on to achieve success as performers, conductors, and educators. While teaching at Midland, Jim met and married Ardeth Ohm-Moser at Bethany Lutheran Church in Elkhorn on July 9, 1982, and they later divorced. To this union two sons were born. Jim retired from Midland Lutheran College after 31 years in 2007. Jim was a longtime member of the Nebraska Music Educators Association. In 2004, his peers in the profession elected him to the NMEA Educators Hall of Fame in recognition of his contribution to music education in Nebraska. Induction into the Hall of Fame is the most prestigious award bestowed to NMEA members. Jim was the artistic director for Die Meistersingers/Master Singers, a select choir in the Omaha Area, for 30 years. He also enjoyed a tenure as chorus master for Opera Omaha; directed music and shows for the Firehouse Dinner Theater; composed for and directed the Peony Park Arthritis Foundation concerts; assisted with and conducted music for the Miss Nebraska Beauty Pageants; conducted music for the Pathfinder Chorus; and was a guest conductor for the Summer Sing Choral Retreat at Lake Tahoe, CA. Jim loved to restore antiques, was a fabulous chef, liked to fish, and enjoyed farming and gardening. He had a great sense of humor and was known to bring people together, often being described as humorous, gregarious, demanding, and warm. He had an intense, charismatic persona and always strived for perfection. In all aspects of life, Jim expected the same intensity and effort from those he taught and those who knew him. He was also extremely active in contributing to Cheyenne charity organizations for the education of children. Preceded in death by his parents, Archie and Grace Elsberry; sister, Lovyce (Stanley) Petersen; brother, Myles (Beverly) Elsberry; three brothers who died in their infancy; brother-in-law, Harold Sherman. Survived by sons, Austin Elsberry, Jordan Elsberry; sister, Dorene Sherman; nephews: David Sherman, Audie Elsberry, and Daniel Petersen; nieces: Kris (Chuck) Yates, Deborah Petersen, and Patrice Weisser; and many other nieces, nephews, friends, and family.

MEMORIAL SERVICES will be held at 2pm on Wednesday, August 16, 2017, at Dugan Funeral Chapel in Fremont. Information for a future Celebration of Life ceremony will be forthcoming.

DUGAN FUNERAL CHAPEL 751 N. Lincoln Ave., Fremont NE 68025 402-721-2880

Music educator and chorale director Jim Elsberry, 77, was ‘an outstanding teacher’

By Michael Kelly / World-Herald staff writer


Jim Elsberry conducted 70 voices in glorious harmony, elevated the musical skills of college students and enjoyed coming up with witty puns.

Elsberry, the former director of the MasterSingers chorale in Omaha and retired director of choral music and jazz studies at the former Midland Lutheran College, died Monday at 77.

“He was one of the most important and gifted conductors I’ve ever seen work,” said Eric Richards, a former colleague in Fremont at what’s now called Midland University. “And he was an outstanding teacher.”

A member of the Nebraska Music Educators Association Hall of Fame, Elsberry is survived by sons Austin and Jordan. A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Wednesday at the Dugan Funeral Chapel in Fremont.

James A. Elsberry was born in Wausa, Nebraska. His sister, Dorene Sherman of Bellevue, said he played “Pistol Packin’ Mama” on ukulele at age 4.

He earned music degrees at Wayne State College and the University of Northern Colorado, and he taught at Omaha Benson High until joining Midland in 1976.

He developed what became known as the “Elsberry Sound,” influenced by jazz musicians such as Duke Ellington and Stan Kenton.

Besides serving for 30 years as artistic director of the MasterSingers, previously called “Die Meistersingers,” Elsberry directed shows at the old Firehouse Dinner Theater and was chorus master for Opera Omaha.

He enjoyed Native American culture as well as cooking, fishing, farming and restoring antiques. He also practiced what he called “punology,” plays on words that he called “illsberrys.”

Richards, now the director of bands and jazz studies at Sheridan College in Wyoming, said that in the most stressful times, Jim would calmly say, “Let’s get this handled.”

He had suffered from heart problems and lung cancer, and in recent times musical friends came to play for him a final time.

Anita Clark Jaynes played her harp in June. In July, Jeff Jenkins, a Nebraska City native and now a jazz pianist in Denver, gave a “Concert for Jim” with his vocalist wife.

Sherman, Elsberry’s sister, helped take care of her brother at the beginning and at the end of his life. He will be her reminder, she said, that “music is indeed what feelings sound like.”

Click here to see James A.'s last Profile entry.