James K. (Jim) Copenhaver, who led the University of South Carolina bands for more than 30 years and after his retirement gave a $1 million endowment to the school in 2012, has died at age 71.
Copenhaver, who died Wednesday, directed the bands at USC from 1976 through 2010. On its website, the USC School of Music noted that Copenhaver “will be forever etched into the fabric of the USC School of Music. His commitment, recruitment of star students, dedicated education to all students, and intensive focus on making beautiful music were credited for making the USC band program respected around the country.”
Copenhaver’s most visible role was with the USC marching band, but he also conducted the University Wind Ensemble and Symphonic Band and teaching multiple courses in the School of Music.
At the ceremony marking his $1 million gift to the school in 2012, Copenhaver noted that the university music program was his life. “I’ve been married to my work all my life,” he said. “I never got married. I don’t have children.”
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But thousands of children gained a love for music either under his tutelage or in bands led by his former students.
“There are hundreds of outstanding music teachers across the Southeast because of him,” said former student Matt McCord at that 2012 ceremony. “He believed in us. He expected more of us than we thought we could give, and he would not settle for anything less than excellence. He set the standard.”
Many of those former students have taken to social media to tell “Cope” stories. One Facebook page, James K. Copenhaver – A Celebration of Life, was set up specifically for those tales. Former student Lynn Collins of Columbia shared her story.
“In August of 1983, I called Mr. C very upset and told him I wasn't going to be able to march that year as I had just had surgery. He replied, ‘Well I'll just put you on injured reserve.’ When I said ‘I didn't know we had that,’ he laughed and said, ‘We do now.’ He could have easily dismissed me as just another clarinet player, but he cared enough to get creative with USC. That phone call showed his true character as a leader, an educator, and a mentor.”
The new music practice facility on Sumter Street was named the Copenhaver Band Hall in 2013 to recognize his contributions to the university.
Most USC football fans who enjoyed the performances of Copenhaver’s bands through the years probably didn’t realize that he also was responsible for a tune they’ve learned to hate. While serving as the interim director of bands at Clemson from 1971 through 1973, Copenhaver introduced Henry Fillmore’s “Orange Bowl March” to the Tiger band repertoire. The clarinet-heavy march remains a fixture at Clemson football games.
A memorial service is planned for 2 p.m. Dec. 7 at the Copenhaver Band Hall.