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November-December 2015

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In Memoriam: James Roy Horner (1953–2015)

The haunting sound of the flute emanating from the full London Symphony Orchestra … it's a melody that most of us remember as well as our own national anthems. The soundtrack from the 1997 movie Titanic is the biggest selling soundtrack album of all time. So why am I telling you this?

James Horner is known to the world as one of the most prolific and talented composers of our time. In a smaller part of that world he is known for having been an avid mineral collector with exceptional taste.

Elbaite on an albite matrix with smoky quartz, lepidolite, and orthoclase, 20.5 cm high, from Paprok, Nuristan, Afghanistan. At one time in the Horner collection, it is now in the MIM Museum (specimen 771), Augustin de Valence photo.

Elbaite on an albite matrix with smoky quartz, lepidolite, and orthoclase, 20.5 cm high, from Paprok, Nuristan, Afghanistan. At one time in the Horner collection, it is now in the MIM Museum (specimen 771), Augustin de Valence photo.

James was born in Los Angeles on 14 August 1953 to parents Harry Horner, who emigrated from Czechoslovakia in 1935, and Joan Ruth Frankel, a Canadian. James started playing the piano at the age of five. His early years were spent in London where his not-so-heavy British accent was born and where he attended the Royal College of Music. Returning to America in his teens, he attended the prestigious Verde Valley High School in Sedona, Arizona. He received his bachelor's degree in music from the University of Southern California. His master's degree and doctorate were earned at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), where he studied under the famous Paul Chihara. (Gosh, wonder who he was cheering for when these cross-town rivals met on the gridiron or basketball court!)

After several scoring assignments with the American Film Institute in the 1970s, while teaching a course in music theory at UCLA, James turned to film scoring full-time. (I, for one, am glad he did—my playlist is filled with memorable James Horner music.)

The list of James Horner scores for movies, television, documentaries, and the odd job (i.e., the music for Michael Jackson's Captain EO) is so vast his credits go on for pages and pages. And each time you tune into CBS evening news you will hear James's original music for a venue (television) that he claimed he had never watched. Of course, Titanic is his “Hope Diamond,” but all you “Trekies” will know Star Trek II—The Wrath of Khan (where James made an uncredited appearance as an Enterprise crew member in 1982). I had to do a lot of digging for this bit of trivia and even more digging to find the photo of him dressed as a crew member.

Beryl, variety aquamarine, 30 cm high, from Shigar Valley, Skardu district, Baltistan, Pakistan. At one time in the Horner collection, it is now in the MIM Museum (specimen 777), James Elliott photo.

Beryl, variety aquamarine, 30 cm high, from Shigar Valley, Skardu district, Baltistan, Pakistan. At one time in the Horner collection, it is now in the MIM Museum (specimen 777), James Elliott photo.

Everyone in the Horner family was involved in the film industry: his father, Harry, was an Oscar-winning set director and his brother Christopher is a documentary filmmaker. Father and sons worked together on The Jazz Singer in 1980—Harry and Christopher as set directors and James as score composer.

James was a collector of many things. His studio in Calabasas, California, was filled with antique Orions, toy windmills, and all kinds of wooden toys with movement. It was a magical, whimsical toy store. A small separate room contained display cases filled with minerals, with airplane models along the tops of the cases. The Oscars he won?—in a corner on the floor. There were no chairs; James would sit cross-legged on the floor in front of the minerals and gaze at them. He often said they gave him inspiration for his music.

Imagine a young James walking to his lessons at the Royal College. Every day he walked pass the venerable Natural History Museum. There was one day when he wandered inside and stood staring at the huge entry hall, taking in the majesty of it all, as many of us have over the years. Eventually he found the mineral hall, and of all the specimens throughout the museum it was the minerals that grabbed his attention, and a new interest was born.

The mineral emporium at the time was Gregory and Bottley, founded by mineralogist James Gregory in 1858 (in 1982 it became Gregory, Bottley, and Lloyd when Brian and Mary Lloyd acquired the firm). Between James's time in London and his move back to Los Angeles, I have not been able to piece together where his travels took him and what minerals he obtained. When I first met James, he showed me specimens of French pyromorphites he had purchased from a French mineral dealer, so I have to assume that his work took him many places and he acquired specimens on those trips. He started attending the Tucson Show in the 1970s and bought minerals from Milton and Hilda Sklar. He also bought borate minerals from the late Jim Minette because, he said, he did not have much money and they were cheap!

Rhodochrosite on quartz crystals with hübnerite, 12 cm wide, from the Huallapon mine, Pasto Bueno, Ancash Department, Peru. At one time in the Horner collection, it is now in the MIM Museum (specimen 787), Augustin de Valence photo.

Rhodochrosite on quartz crystals with hübnerite, 12 cm wide, from the Huallapon mine, Pasto Bueno, Ancash Department, Peru. At one time in the Horner collection, it is now in the MIM Museum (specimen 787), Augustin de Valence photo.

We can divide James's collecting into “BT” and “AT” (before Titanic and after Titanic). As his fortunes changed, so did his collecting. In talking with several dealers who sold to him, they agreed that he took a relatively “new” stance in collecting: go for the looks only. To put it another way: James did not want to marry the ugly girls—it was the beauty that inspired him. No sense showing him a rock with a small black smudge even though it may have been the rarest thing on earth; it would not fly with him.

He went on to assemble a remarkable collection of minerals that stressed color and form. The minerals began to consume him, and it became a matter of contention within the family. My husband, Wayne, and I were invited to list and evaluate the collection in the early 1990s, and it was not long after that task that the entire collection was moved to the Houston Museum of Natural Science. The “loan” was indefinite, and although some of the pieces were donated to the museum, many were sold quietly at James's direction to various dealers, collectors, and museums.

Vanadinite, 10.5 cm wide, from Mibladen, Midelt, Khénifra Province, Meknès-Tafilalet region, Morocco. At one time in the Horner collection, it is now in the MIM Museum (specimen 867), James Elliott photo.

Vanadinite, 10.5 cm wide, from Mibladen, Midelt, Khénifra Province, Meknès-Tafilalet region, Morocco. At one time in the Horner collection, it is now in the MIM Museum (specimen 867), James Elliott photo.

Probably one of the most extraordinary specimens ever found was purchased by James from Collector's Edge: the beautiful “Dragon” gold from the Colorado Quartz mine in Mariposa County, California, which is on display in Houston along with a remarkably large leaf gold from the Red Ledge mine acquired from Kristalle. James never acquired any other minerals after the collection was removed from his studio.

We can look forward to a few more works by James. He had already written the scores for three films soon to be released: Southpaw (July 2015 release), Wolf Totem (Mandarin language, released in China and France in February 2015; U.S. release September 2015), and one that really intrigues me: The 33 (November 2015 release). This is a “small” movie about thirty-three miners trapped in the San Jose mine in Chile in 2010 for a three-month period. I would like to think that it was his interest in mines and minerals that made him take on this particular project.

Apatite on a siderite matrix with quartz, 20.5 cm high, Minas da Panasqueira, Covilhã, Castelo Branco district, Portugal. At one time in the Horner collection, it is now in the MIM Museum (specimen 1533), Augustin de Valence photo.

Apatite on a siderite matrix with quartz, 20.5 cm high, Minas da Panasqueira, Covilhã, Castelo Branco district, Portugal. At one time in the Horner collection, it is now in the MIM Museum (specimen 1533), Augustin de Valence photo.

In a strange and sad career path, James had just finished the beautiful score for the National Geographic film Living in the Age of Airplanes narrated by Harrison Ford, a fellow flyer who survived the crash of his own plane recently.

James was a lifelong aviation enthusiast, and in 2010 he composed Flight, a piece of music for an aerobatic team called The Horsemen, based on his experience flying with the group. He attended many air shows when he was young and loved flying his small planes. When he worked on Flight he, as he put it, “re-fell in love with [flying] and decided to re-learn, re-qualify myself to fly again.” He owned several planes, and on 22 June he took off alone in his rare S-312 Tucano turboprop, flying north. The plane crashed and burned in a remote area of the Los Padres National Forest, about 100 miles north of Los Angeles.

James is survived by his wife, Sarah, and daughters, Becky and Emily. In one of his last interviews James said: “You have to touch peoples' hearts.”

You did James, and we all thank you for it.

Dona Lee Leicht and her husband, Wayne, have owned and operated Kristalle in Laguna Beach, California, since 1974.

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