Charles Bestor (1924 - 2016)

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AMHERST - The composer and educator Charles Bestor died in his sleep January 16, 2016, at his home in Amherst.

Born Dec. 21, 1924, in New York City, to Arthur E. and Jeanette L. Bestor, Charles spent his childhood at the Chautauqua Institution where his father was president and in New York City, where he graduated from the Lincoln School.

He met his future wife, Ann Elder, at the International House in New York City and on their first date they watched Bobby Thompson hit his legendary home run. After their marriage in 1951 at the First Congregational Church in Amherst, they went on to have six children who joined them on their various adventures in New York, Colorado, Oregon, Alabama, and finally, Massachusetts, as Charles pursued his parallel careers in music administration and composition.

He studied with Paul Hindemith at Yale University and later with Vincent Persichetti and Peter Menin at the Juilliard School and independently, with Vladimir Ussachevsky. He held degrees from Swarthmore College (Phi Beta Kappa), the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a doctorate from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

He began his career at the Juilliard School, where in 1958, he and Ann along with their three sons accompanied the Juilliard Orchestra on their State Department sponsored European tour, acting as manager of the orchestra. He then accepted a faculty position at the University of Colorado at Boulder and from there went on to become the dean of the music school at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, followed by appointments as head of music at the University of Alabama and the University of Utah.

In 1977 the family returned to the east coast and Ann's hometown of Amherst, where he became head of music and dance department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. While Charles spent many of his hours composing and, while in Utah received commissions from the Utah Symphony and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, it was during his tenure at UMass that he was able to fully embrace his role as composer.

Through time spent at the artist colonies Yaddo, MacDowell, Ragdale, the Virginia Center for the Arts and the Tyrone Guthrie Centre (Ireland) Charles was able to write many of the compositions performed so beautifully by his colleagues at UMass and elsewhere. At the time of his death he was working on a double CD set of his music entitled "The Summing Up". The CD, to be released by Albany Records in the spring of 2016, features local artists Estela Olevsky, Nigel Coxe, Paulina Stark, Lynn Klock, Eduardo Leonardo, Astrid Schween, Jon Humphries and Dana Lynne Varga.

Charles also collaborated on many installation pieces, the first of which, Pathways from the Dream Spell Series, with Sherry Healy, was installed at the Chicago International Art Expo at Navy Pier. He went on to a long and fruitful collaboration with the visual artist Barbara Cornett and the lighting designer John Wade on the installations Cycles and Time and the River's Flow, both of which were commissioned by the Maier Museum of American Art. He subsequently collaborated with Ms. Cornett and Mr. Wade on the installation Into the Labyrinth, commissioned by the Fine Arts Center of the Virginia Museum in Lynchburg and The Unfound Door, commissioned by the College Music Society.

Charles served in the Navy during World War II.

His wife Ann died in 1999 after 47 years of a successful and loving partnership. Their commitment, passion and love for their family is part of their enduring legacy as parents and individuals to their children who have strived to live by their example of honesty and integrity. Charles of Washington D.C., Geoff of Washington D.C., Phill of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Leslie Ann of Amherst, Wendy of Taiwan, and Simsbury, Connecticut, and Jenner of Amherst, join with Phill and Wendy's spouses Janice Watkins and Lee Zalinger, and Charles' grandchildren Zachary, Gavin and Josh Zalinger, Amanda Bestor-Siegal and Cady Bestor and his companion Barbara Cornett of Lynchburg, Virginia.

The family will hold in a private ceremony this weekend followed by a public memorial in the fall of 2016 to honor his life and legacy.

Donations in his honor may be made to the Ann Elder Bestor Memorial Scholarship in Music, c/o Jessica Usher, College of Humanities and Fine Arts, 104 Dickinson Hall, 155 Hicks Way, Amherst, MA 01002.

Obituary and memorial register at

To sign a Guest Book, express condolences, share memories and read other obituaries, go to
Funeral Home
Douglass Funeral Home
87 North Pleasant Street
Amherst, MA 01002
(413) 253-3407
Published in Daily Hampshire Gazette on Jan. 23, 2016
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