A Tribute to My Mentor and Our Friend Marvin Hamlisch by Joshua and Jane Coyne

Joshua Coyne’s Tribute to Marvin

Marvin Hamlisch was an extremely influential figure in the world of television, movies, Broadway, and the concert hall. He is very well known for his beautiful music and his charismatic personality on stage, but less well known for his dedication to arts education, and youth.

When I was 13, in the summer after my 8th grade year, I went to see one of the most spectacular and memorable performances of my life. It was at Wolf Trap, just outside of Washington, D.C. It was a man, and a piano, and an orchestra.

Marvin Hamlisch took us through a night of music, laughter, stories, and improvisation. As a very young composer, and musician, I was so inspired by his visible genius and musicality. I knew I was watching a star!

Josh Coyne and Marvin Hamlisch at The Kennedy Center.

Emil de Cou was an Assistant Conductor with the National Symphony Orchestra, and he was working at Wolf Trap too. He saw me at the pre-concert lecture, and I had a violin case on my back. After the lecture, my mom and I were getting something to drink and he came over to speak with us. He was so nice, and he said he would get us a pass to meet Marvin after the concert. I couldn’t believe it!

After the show, we went backstage. We waited and waited, hoping that maybe we could see him walking by, even from afar. When he came out, he was in no rush, meeting fans and audience members, shaking hands and taking pictures. I would have been the same as the rest … amazed at the chance to shake the hand of a true genius. but then a violinist from the symphony, Holly Hamilton, who knew me from a summer camp where she had seen me perform, walked by and told Hamlisch in passing that I was a “real talent.” That was all it took! My mom and I got a call from Marvin’s assistant, and we were scheduled to meet him the next time he was in town so I could play for him.

Marvin mentored me for five years, helping me with compositions, introducing me to talent, giving me performance opportunities, and guiding the tough decisions a young composer musician has to make at the beginning of his career. He always made time for me.

I had a deep love and a true connection to Marvin Hamlisch, and I will miss him, not just for his beautiful music, but for his warm heart and dedication to sharing his gifts and talents, and for giving back to his audience. I work harder and smarter, and I am a better musician and composer because of him. He was my mentor and my friend, and I will never forget him.

Joshua Coyne

Jane Coyne’s Tribute to Marvin

Dear Marvin,

As I am sure you are aware, people all over the world are writing about you, living legends in the world of music, stage, and screen are paying tribute to you, and in a rare show of unity unprecedented in recent times, leading political statesmen and women are singing your praises in the same key. You deserved all of this and more, and I’m about to give you more. The thing is, I’m going to need to do this direct from me to you, because it’s the only way that I can possibly get through this.

Jane Coyne singing in her Hollywood Days.

Many years ago, I was living and working in Hollywood. As you know, Hollywood can be a wild and crazy place. For a young girl, it can also be scary, because in the beginning, behind and surrounding the music, the art, and the talent, there is all the craziness of power and money, of many people being out of control, and of people using each other in ways that make nobody proud. There is so much good to be found, but it’s one of those places where having internal grounding is critical. So … what I want you to know is this. I was still in my teens, but I knew who you were … at least musically. After all, I was the crazy kid, and probably the only kid from that time whose record collection only included Barbra Streisand, Johnny Mathis, Nat King Cole, Judy Garland, etc. I was the kid who turned on Barbra, started singing so long and hard with her that I forgot to be too embarrassed to crawl out my bedroom window onto my rooftop stage to sing her music and your music for all the world to hear, and the one who never realized what I was doing until the neighbors came outside to clap. I was that girl.

When I got to Hollywood, I found out that the real people I listened to and watched really did live there, as did all of the people behind the scenes. Some of them with very big names and very big talent were those who scared me the most. They always had beautiful girls with them, many of them. The girls changed constantly, sometimes in the course of a single day. To me, they all looked pretty, and pretty much the same. Only the names changed.

However, there was one guy who always stood out to me. In my opinion, he had the greatest underlying talent of all. He really was not Mr. Hollywood. In fact he was refreshingly geeky. Smart as a whip. Incredible wit. Big glasses. Tall. As genuine as could be. Socially a bit awkward, but not onstage, working on music, or helping a singer, dancer, or fellow musician, not at his piano, and not when composing. A little lonely. A little insecure with his talent and himself. Giving. A believer in good. A good boy. Always dressed. I thought he was absolutely perfect. He was the young Marvin. He was you.

Marvin, you didn’t know me then, but I was with you and cheering you on. When the music slowed down temporarily, you were the star and the wit of every talk show or game show lucky enough to have you, but when you were there too long, I was usually perturbed that some director or producer or another wasn’t begging you to contribute your musical talents to another project. I should have been more vocal, because knowing you now, I’m quite sure I could have saved you many dollars in agent fees and therapists during these times.

Do you know what a lesson you are on how to last in the crazy business of show business? You had incredible talent, and your talent was so versatile. You and your memorable melodies were never out of fashion for long. You didn’t mess up. You worked constantly. You were always a positive force. Nobody did it better. You deserved the Oscar for “Nobody Does It Better,” and you deserved so many more.

I’m so proud of you as a composer, but I want to say something else to you. You said you realized early on that you were not going to be the next Horowitz. I just wanted to say that Horowitz, another guy I loved, may have been one of your biggest fans. There are different kinds of talent. You and I talked about how intimidating a stage can be for a solo artist, including an artist with your talent. You know how big the stage is looking out from front and center. I don’t care what you thought of your piano skills or how much conducting you had or had not studied. It’s no accident that when Barbra Streisand performed – she wanted you. It’s no accident that Liza wanted you. It’s no accident that when the White House called – they wanted you. It’s no accident that whenever the stakes were as high as they could have possibly been – that people wanted you. I am a singer, and so I want you to know that a singer would never feel alone with you at the piano or when you were music directing. Singers trusted themselves because you were there. You always got it and you always had them. You made singing safe no matter what happened.

Marvin, there was only one you, but do you have any idea how much your support has meant to so many up-and-coming artists? Do you know this legacy? Do you understand how many young people do know what a melody is because of you? Do you know how many people do take young kids to concerts because they know you really want them to do so? The list is endless Marvin, and the influence will live on through generations of young artists and composers because of what you have done. I’m not sure how many understand how much you had given back and paid forward throughout your life and career.

Marvin, once upon a very lucky day, not long after moving to the DC area, I learned you were performing at Wolf Trap. Once upon another very lucky day I had adopted a little two year-old boy, only to discover that he was without question, a musician, a classical musician, a jazz musician, but in his heart and soul a composer and instrumentalist exploding with music that belongs on film and on theatre stages. I told him that I was taking him to see and hear you. Josh almost always has a violin with him. We went to a pre-concert lecture that Emil de Cou was giving, and he noticed Josh because he was the only kid there and because he had a violin case attached to his back. He invited us to go backstage after the show. We met you, and while we were talking, Holly Hamilton walked by. She looked at you and said, “This kid is a talent … a real talent.” With that, you looked at us and said that we should make an appointment to meet with you the next time you were in town. All you had to do was shake hands and say an encouraging word to a young kid, perhaps sign an autograph, but being Marvin, you did much, much more.

Josh was barely into high school, but he was studying, he was composing, and he was performing. He was still a child. Suddenly we were meeting you backstage before and after concerts and rehearsals, we were spending entire afternoons in a backstage office or at your hotel, with you going over scores note-by-note, listening to Josh play, mentoring, advising, and always encouraging. You said you were going to do all of this the first time we met together, and you kept your word. I would like to ask you if you knew how much this means to an emerging talent, but I know you knew, because you once were one of these kids you helped – no matter how many orchestras you were leading, no matter how many films and stage shows you were scoring, no matter what. I spoke to you just a couple of weeks ago, and you were making time even then. Thank you.

Marvin, some of the times I will always remember are little times. I know you liked it when Josh and I showed up and I had a package of food for you that I had made, just so you didn’t have to eat another meal alone in a hotel. You liked that I understood this, and it showed in your eyes and on your face before you ever said anything about it. You liked that I cared that you missed your sister and that you were proud to be married. You liked it when I called you up shrieking with joy when you premiered “Chanukah Lights” and telling you that Barbra had to record it. You said she might be too busy. Only if you don’t ask her, Marvin – I’m going to do this for you. I don’t know how I’m going to find her, but I will.

Marvin, I loved your crazy short phone messages:

“This is Marvin Hamlisch. We’ll go with the second song. It’s really nice. Okay, I’ll be back to you.”

“This is Marvin Hamlisch. Here’s my new address. So now you know how to find me.”

Maybe the call I remember the most, however, is the one I was around to answer earlier this year, right after I called to ask if you were OK, the one where I said, “I love you on the stage all dressed up and performing, but I also care about you during all the rest of the ‘not-so-glamorous times,’ and that my ‘worry switch’ had been permanently set to ‘on.’ ‘You told me you were fine. I didn’t believe you, and I think you knew this was the case. I understand.

People keep calling me to say that they think I reviewed your last or one of your very last concerts. I don’t even know what to think about this. It seems impossible. Josh is writing something for you, too. He loves you and respects you so much. On Monday, we were on a thirteen-hour film shoot that would have made you very proud. You’re in it, you know. Last night, we were invited to the home of some people you know, people your wife introduced you to. Marvin, Josh and Jon played music all night. Did you hear their tribute?

Marvin, I know the music has to be great where you are, and that the collaborations will be endless. When it’s time for a rest, I hope you will be sleeping on blue satin sheets. Nobody deserves them more than you.

With love always,

Jane Coyne

Jane and Joshua Coyne.


Funeral Arrangements for Marvin Hamlisch
From The NY Times.

Marvin Hamlisch The life of Marvin Hamlisch, the highly decorated composer of “A Chorus Line” and “The Way We Were,” among many other works, will be commemorated at visitations and a funeral service, his press representatives said on Thursday. Public visitations will be held at the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel at 1076 Madison Avenue, at 81st Street, in Manhattan, on Sunday between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m., and between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., and on Monday during those same hours. The funeral, which is also open to the public, will be held on Tuesday 11 a.m. at Temple Emanu-El at 1 East 65th Street in Manhattan.

Mr. Hamlisch, who won Emmy, Grammy, Tony and Academy Awards as well as the Pulitzer Prize, died in Los Angeles on Monday after what his family said was a brief illness. He was 68.

More information about Marvin’s life and funeral arrangements are on his website. You can also leave a message for Marvin’s family on the site.

Read Jane Coyne’s review of Hamlisch Goes Gershwin at Wolf Trap on Friday, July 13, 2012.


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Jane Coyne
Jane Coyne has been involved in the arts for all of her life. As a singer, she has toured the country as a soloist, appearing at major venues throughout the United States, performing with musicians including Duke Ellington, Johnny Coles, Paul Gonzalves, and Tyree Glenn, and she has appeared in many musical theatre productions. She has managed the careers of a number of a number of international conductors and composers and previously served as the vice president of the National Philharmonic at Strathmore, executive director of the Maryland Classic Youth Orchestras, and associate director of Washington’s Theatre Lab School of the Dramatic Arts. Jane directs the National PTA Reflections Program (one of the largest arts education programs in the country). She is also one of the founding directors of Young Artists of America, and manages the career of her son, composer and violinist Joshua Coyne.


  1. Dear Jane and Josh,
    Lovely tributes and well deserved. As a long-time fan of Mr. Hamlisch (& a patron during his tenure as Conductor for the NSO Pops), I too shall miss him. But he will live on through his music and the inspiration & guidance he provided to talented young performers and composers like Josh.



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