July 26, 2018 admin

Jim Elsberry is the recipient of the Cornell Runestad Lifetime Achievement Award

Crete, NE — July 10, 2018 – James “Jim” Elsberry was posthumously named as the recipient of the Cornell Runestad Lifetime Achievement Award. Jim’s son, Austin Elsberry, accepted the award on behalf of his father at the NCDA Awards banquet on July 10, 2018. The Cornell Runestad Award, presented by the Nebraska Choral Directors Association, is to be given to a deserving choral director in Nebraska. It is intended to honor those professionals that have made the commitment to singers in Nebraska through choirs under their direction. The inspiration of their artistry has touched many lives, and has set the bar for the many directors who follow in their paths. In short, they have left a legacy.

Jim Elsberry taught, directed, composed, and arranged music of every genre for over 50 years. He began his teaching career in Underwood, Iowa teaching K-12 vocal music from 1961–1966. From there, he became the Vocal Music Director at Benson High School in Omaha, Nebraska. During his tenure there, from 1966–1975, Jim pioneered the vocal jazz movement at Benson High School with the formation of a jazz choir, the Benson High School Studio Singers. He then went on to serve as the Director of Choral Music and Associate Professor of Music Theory, Conducting, and Music Education at Midland University (formerly Midland Lutheran College) from 1976-2007.


Over the course of his career, Jim served as Conductor of the Fremont-Midland Choral Society, the Fremont Reformation Community Chorus, and early in his career, as the Chorus Master for Opera Omaha. With over 60 musical theater productions to his credit, he worked as the Music Director for the Firehouse Dinner Theatre, the Chanticleer Theatre, The Mule Barn Summer Theatre, The Anderson Schoolhouse, and many high school and college productions at Underwood, Benson High School, and Midland University. Jim served as the Artistic Director of The MasterSingers (formerly Die MeisterSingers) from 1981–2009. As a guest conductor, Jim worked with the United States Air Force Heartland of America Band, the USAF Noteables, the Nebraska Brass, the Nebraska Wind Symphony, the Nebraska Chamber Orchestra, La Banda Italian, Mariachi Zapata, the Swingtones, The Bluffs Big Band, the Omaha Symphonic Chorus and many other music organizations. He was also active as a judge and guest conductor for choral festivals and conventions in Nebraska, including the NCDA Convention in 1985 and the North Central ACDA Conference.


Jim regularly used his creative talents in support of community events. Over the years he served as the Music Director for SeptemberFest (1978), as Music Director and Associate Producer for the Miss Nebraska Pageant (1980–1985), and as Arranger and Conductor for the Nebraska Arthritis Foundation Gala (1976–1980). Jim wrote jingles for television and radio and produced and directed a number of studio recordings, both for The MasterSingers, and for other professional musicians. He collaborated with numerous esteemed performers, conductors, and directors including Norman Luboff, John Rutter, Jackson Berkey, Karrin Allyson, Jeff Jenkins, Ric Swanson, Eric Richards, Jim Koudelka, Boyd Bacon, Frank Tirro, Dick Palmer, Norman Filbert, Jim DeBlaise, Dale Grotenhuis, Howard Skinner, Craig Jessop, Bob Edson, Eph Ely, Tony Guzman, Luigi Waites, and many others. As was the case with his students, those who collaborated with Jim greatly respected his musical knowledge, passion and skills, as well as his work ethic and magnetic personality, and would become his life-long friends.


Over his career, Jim Elsberry composed or arranged over 700 songs, many specifically for the Midland University Choir, the Midland University Clef Dwellers, and The MasterSingers (Die MeisterSingers). Throughout his life, Jim freely shared his vast personal music library with directors and music educators across the country.


In recognition of his many accomplishments, Jim was inducted into the Nebraska Music Educators Hall of Fame (2004), named to the Benson High School Hall of Fame (2012), and Who’s Who Among Teachers in America. Jim earned a Bachelor’s degree in Music Education from Wayne State College in Wayne, Nebraska and a Master’s degree in Vocal Performance from the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, Colorado.


Jim Elsberry’s legacy as a choral music director in Nebraska is expansive. When a few of his former students learned of his nomination for this award, they were eager to share their testimonies on his behalf. In their tributes, the common threads woven throughout their statements included fairness, discipline, encouragement, passion, and caring. A countless number of lives were changed because Jim was their choir director, teacher, mentor, supporter, and friend. Jim Elsberry embodied the very characteristics this award was created to celebrate – a legacy of great artistry, discipline, dedication, and heart, which is being carried on by his many students and colleagues.


Jim Elsberry passed away on August 7, 2017 at the age of 77 in Fremont, Nebraska.


NCDA is proud to recognize Jim Elsberry for his distinguished career and achievements promoting choral music in the state of Nebraska.


Information included in this article was provided by Cheri Parramore and Jeff Jenkins.


Nebraska Choral Directors Association

Marjorie Simons-Bester, Past President



About the Nebraska Choral Directors Association


The Nebraska Choral Directors Association is committed to the improvement of choral music in Nebraska. In pursuing this commitment, the Association shall be involved in activities such as providing information and leadership, service, promoting high professional standards, working with other professional organizations interested in choral music and the persons which choral music serves.


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Nebraska Choral Directors Association (NCDA)