An Inspiration To The Rest Of Us

Everett “Vic” Firth, a musician, educator and entrepreneur who performed with the Boston Symphony Orchestra for 50 years and who founded the Vic Firth Company, died in July at the age of 85.

Born in Winchester MA and raised in Sanford ME, 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. By age 16, Firth had formed the 18-piece Vic Firth Big Band, which performed throughout the New England area. At age 21, he auditioned for, and became, the youngest member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra by 30 years. Not yet finished with his bachelor’s degree from the New England Conservatory of Music, he made special arrangements to complete his coursework and degree.

Firth performed with many legendary conductors and musicians; among them were 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, he became head of its percussion department; he held the title for 44 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,” recalled 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 by incredible musicianship, elegance and impeccable timing.”

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 had remarked. “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.”

Firth is credited with inventing or standardizing many of the key manufacturing processes used today in the drum stick world, including 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. 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 both his immediate family and an extended global family of musicians, as well as a legacy that will never be forgotten.

Vic Firth

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