Vic Firth, the legendary percussionist and drumstick-maker who served as the principal timpanist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra for almost half a century, has died at the age of 85. Check out the New York Times' excellent and colorful obituary.
I grew up playing drum set and percussion in the Boston area. Boston percussion and Vic Firth were inextricably linked, although, thanks to the supremacy of Vic Firth sticks, his legacy is wide-ranging and permanent. My primary percussion teachers studied with him at New England Conservatory; I was proud of that percussive lineage, and in awe of Mr. Firth, who won a BSO job at the age of 21.
Unlike centuries-old cellos or violins, most percussion equipment is somewhat impermanent. Sticks crack and split; the felt on timpani mallets puffs up and deteriorates, requiring regular repair. But the sound, weight, evenness and color of that fragile equipment are critical. Mr. Firth recognized that fact, and in doing so, he elevated the art of percussion.
I met Mr. Firth once, while dropping off or picking up some timpani mallets – I can't remember which – at his company's headquarters in Boston. He entertained my fandom, noodled with my sticks on a desk, made some approving comment, and went on his way. The interaction was brief, but the impact was permanent.