Vic Firth

Everett “Vic” Firth, the musician, educator and entrepreneur who performed with the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) for 50 years and who founded the Vic Firth Company, died on July 26 in Boston. He was 85.

While a student at the New England Conservatory, Firth 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, he became head of the percussion department, a title he held for 44 years. He 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. In 1995, he was inducted into the Percussive Arts Society’s Hall of Fame. He retired from the BSO in 2002.

Firth was obsessed with the quality of sound. That is what guided his playing, his teaching and, ultimately, what 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; these include centerless grinding, pitch-pairing, weight-sorting and injection molding, as well as the introduction of 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.”

Firth leaves behind his immediate family, his extended family of musicians around the globe and a legacy that will never be forgotten.

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