July 31, 2015.
The legendary Vic Firth passed away just recently. Great person and what an incredible talent! You'll see many articles reflecting on his long, wonderful career, so I decided instead to post my "Vic" story.
I have always been a jazz drummer, and when I was in high school thinking about colleges, I never really considered schools that were mostly associated with classical percussion, such as New England Conservatory. But, even though I was a jazz guy, I was so in awe of Vic that I decided to audition for New England Conservatory. Now, in retrospect, I had no business auditioning at NEC since I was really a jazz guy, but I was 18 and figured "hey, why not".
I was a really good snare drummer and reader, fairly decent timpanist, and "OK" on other mallets. So, I get the material and I'm cranking it up and chomping at the bit to audition. Now, I wasn't sure who I would end up auditioning with that day. I figured that even though Vic was the main man, I'd probably be auditioned by someone else on the faculty, so I was a little nervous, but just "normal nervous" since I figured there's no way I'll see Vic.
So, I walk in, and there's Vic. So now I have the "Maalox moment" because here before me is the person who is the ultimate in perfection, and here I am, the jazz goofball who is going to try to show that I'm worthy of NEC, and now I need to play for Vic.
Well, suffice it to say that I played so many clams that day that I could have opened my own clam shack down on Cape Cod. I was so bad that I couldn't even tune, never mind play. It was painfully obvious that I did not belong here, but Vic was very cool. He knew I was nervous and he could see that this wasn't a good fit, but he was kind about it.
So, fast forward to the NAMM show back circa 2007, maybe 2008. I saw Vic there and it was a rare moment when he wasn't busy, so I went over and re-introduced myself and related my story. Vic knew who I was, not from the audition because back then I was just a kid and it was ages ago (1970!), but he knew me from the drum business I started. He laughed and smiled and said "Hey, looks like it worked out OK for you anyhow, and you're having fun right?" Which of course is true.
Anyhow, he was a great one, and we'll miss him. And, as I always say, if you have someone who you admire, and you have the chance to meet them, I suggest that you go up and introduce yourself and tell them how much they mean to you. They will appreciate it, and by doing this you will be sure NOT to miss the opportunity to engage with someone you admire. Don't let the opportunity pass.
Vic Firth, legendary Boston Symphony Orchestra timpanist, world-renowned educator and founder of Vic Firth Company, passes at 85.
Everett "Vic" Firth, the legendary musician, educator and entrepreneur who performed with the Boston Symphony Orchestra for fifty years and founded the world’s leading drumstick manufacturer, the Vic Firth Company, died on Sunday in Boston. He was 85.
Born in Winchester, Massachusetts, and raised in Sanford, Maine, Vic Firth was the son of Rosemary and Everett E., a successful trumpet and cornet player who started the younger Firth on the cornet when he was four. In the following years, Vic Firth took lessons on a variety of instruments. By high school, he was playing percussion full-time, and by age sixteen, had formed the 18-piece "Vic Firth Big Band," which performed throughout the New England area.
At age twenty-one, Firth auditioned for and became the youngest member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra by thirty years. Not yet finished with his bachelor’s degree from the New England Conservatory of Music, he had to make special arrangements in order to complete his course work and degree.
Firth performed with many legendary conductors and musicians including Leonard Bernstein, Serge Koussevitzky, Leopold Stokowski, Jascha Heifetz, Vladimir Horowitz and Seiji Ozawa.
While still a student at the New England Conservatory, Firth also began to devote himself to teaching, which would become one of his lifelong passions. He started first in the preparatory department at the school, and eventually became head of their percussion department, a title he held for forty-four years. He also guided numerous gifted students through their education including, Harvey Mason, Kenny Aronoff and Anton Fig.
In 1992, Firth received an honorary doctorate from the New England Conservatory, and in 1995, he was inducted into the Percussive Arts Society's Hall of Fame.
He retired from the BSO in 2002. "Vic was quite simply the consummate artist," reflected former Boston Symphony conductor, Seiji Ozawa. "I believe he was the single greatest percussionist anywhere in the world. Every performance that Vic gave was informed with incredible musicianship, elegance and impeccable timing."
Firth was obsessed with the quality of sound. This is what guided his playing, his teaching and ultimately, led to the birth of the Vic Firth Company in 1963.
Firth hand whittled his first pair of sticks in his garage, and when word got out about his sticks’ superior quality, the company was born.
"I thought there was a need for a higher-quality stick than what was being manufactured at the time," Firth recalled. "Also, I was asked to do certain things that were perhaps more sophisticated than a lot of timpanists were doing, so I started designing sticks to accommodate what I had to do."
Vic Firth is credited with inventing or standardizing many of the key manufacturing processes used today in the drumstick world, including centerless grinding, pitch-pairing, weight-sorting, injection molding, and the introduction of the more environmentally conscious stick sleeves which keep sticks paired together. With all the technological breakthroughs he made, he coined the tagline, "The Perfect Pair™" which has become iconic around the world among drummers.
"Vic was a visionary in the music industry who was revered by all of us," said Craigie Zildjian, CEO of the Avedis Zildjian Company, which merged with the Vic Firth Company in 2010. "Never one to accept the status quo, Vic blazed trails throughout the drum world."
Vic leaves behind his immediate family, his extended family of musicians around the globe, and a legacy that will never be forgotten.