Vic was an inspiration to all of us. He was a visionary, a mentor, a leader and a friend. He always said he surrounded himself with the best people, but the truth is he brought out the best in all of us.
Many of you have shared your memories of Vic with us. Thank you! We hope you'll take a minute to read some of the reflections below.
Vic's boundless passion for music and musicians drove every decision he made. His spirit and legacy will continue to live at the core of the Vic Firth Company.
Vic always called me Peter so that's what it is.
In 1968, while attending the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, I won a fellowship to perform as a percussionist with the Berkshire Music Festival Orchestra at Tanglewood (very cool since I'm from the Berkshires!).
One of the benefits of this lucky break was to get a chance to meet and study with the great Vic Firth, renowned timpanist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. There were six of us percussionists and I also had a few drumset parts to play on some more modern music. I wasn't sure how Vic and set drummers went together at that time, but soon found out he loved us. And all 6 of us loved him. Well we all know why - he made us feel right at home. And he made playing solo timpani with the BSO look (well) almost easy. Don't be fooled by that, though. He knew what he was doing at all times. He was just terrific at it.
So one day, on the grounds, there is an afternoon (informal mid-week) concert and it featured Vic and the Principle Flautist with the Boston orchestra playing Ingolf Dahl's "Duettino Concertante for Flute and Percussion" (1966) in four movements. So there are about 150 people in the audience and Vic and the flautist tear it up. Vic is picking up all kinds of different sticks, mallets & brushes and playing all kinds of different drums and cymbals and blocks etc.. (all written in the part).
Fast forward to 1979 and I'm living in Toronto and they ask me to perform some creative percussion music (of my choice) on a CBC Radio program that features modern contemporary music. So I think of this piece and contact Vic. He says "oh yah Peta you can handle it - No problem." Cool, so I add it to the list - contact the principle flautist with the Toronto Symphony and tell the producer to put it in the program. We set up a rehearsal for about three weeks down the road (to give me time to get it down) and I start practicing.
Damn the thing is a handful. I call the flute player, two weeks into my practicing, and tell her and the producer I'm just going to be doing the first movement. Everybody agrees 1st movement only. Ok so day one of the 1st rehearsal arrives. Whoops. Picked up the wrong thing to strike the other wrong thing (thought I had it down). This piece has about 2 dozen sticks and brushes and wisks and metal rods and bamboo... and it's all performed on a few drums, blocks, metallic instruments, cymbals and made up stuff by the composer.
Well we struggled on (I did. She just had to play the flute). After our second rehearsal I said to her, "You know what? How about I write a piece for flute and percussion". She quickly agrees and that's how ID19 for solo flute and one percussionist was born.
The lesson for me was don't let Vic tell you "piece of cake" until you look at it first! He turned me into a composer.
Vic Firth was many things to me: friend, mentor and business associate. One of his many attributes was displayed in how he did most things... through example. There is one recollection I have in particular that is a telling example of his selflessness.
I was presenting a clinic at PASIC in 2005. (This would make him about 75 then). I usually gave out shaker eggs from my sponsor at the time for those in the audience to interact with the material I was presenting. We were behind in setting up everything and so the eggs weren't out on the seats.
I look out from the stage and there is Vic placing them on each of the seats for the attendees. When I got a moment before going on I asked him, "What are you doing?" His response was to wave me away with his free hand, saying "You needed help..."
This is just the kind of guy he was... If you needed help, he was there.
Vic was such a gracious & elegant gentleman! I'll always remember his classiness! When I first hung out with him in London at a drum festival he pulled me aside and wanted to talk about - of course, his drumsticks. He told me he would be honored if I played them! I thought - wow, does he even know how honored I am just to talk with him? He then proceeded to tell me how he started making them in his back yard!!!! I was becoming more and more impressed by the minute.
By the end of the story I was ready to sign with him right then & there. I explained that I was not free to do so at that time and he said "I know - and I completely respect that. But if you become free, call me first!" Well, I did eventually become available and I called him. We were both excited and I signed with him that very day!
I'll never forget his personal caring way of speaking and communicating with me. Any time I called to discuss my artist stick or just to say hello he always took my call personally with his special brand of elegance & gracefulness. And he showed up at a gig of mine - it was such a treat! What grand gentleman! I will never forget him nor his passion for quality & excellence.
Thank you Vic!
I started using Vic's sticks in 1972, while I was studying with Chuck Brown in Oakland CA. Chuck would have all his students get SD2's with the Bolero tip. It was the first time I'd ever heard of Vic Firth, but his sticks were a cut above anything I had used previously. In fact, I liked them so much that I began using them on my drum set and did several TOP recordings with them.
When I'd see pictures of Vic, he always looked so clean and dapper, with fashion model looks. His ads were always very different from all the others. Much cooler. Eventually, I met him and was immediately struck with how friendly and relaxed he was... he used cool curse words too... I was very impressed!
I'm not sure when I officially became a Vic Firth artist, but certainly made my unofficial pledge of allegiance in 1972. When he asked me to be on his artist roster, I was honored and stunned. The guy who makes the best drumstick in the world has asked me to join ranks with him. Then he asked me if I'd like a personal model stick and he'd be happy to make it for me... another stunner. Anyway, over the years we had many conversations in person, by phone, by letter and email. He was ALWAYS so kind and always expressed a genuine interest in how and what I was doing. Now, he's no longer with us, but, he certainly will never be forgotten by those of us who had the good fortune to cross paths with him. RIP maestro Vic!!!
I have SO many great memories of my good friend Vic Firtth over the past 33 years. Vic and I first met when he drove from Boston to Maine in a blizzard snowstorm to see my show with my first world touring band The Maynard Ferguson Big Band in 1982. I had a logo bass drum head on that tour that had a hole cut out that was shaped like a smile, with my name under the hole and the Maynard Logo above. I had Remo black dot heads on the bottom of my two rack toms..I will never forget what Vic said after the show. It stuck with me for all of these years. Vic always had a great ability to boil it all down and put things in true/real life/funny perspective. He cracked me up that night. It was the first time we ever met and he said: "Great show. You played your tail off.... But what was really funny was when I looked at your bass drum head from the audience and saw those two black dot bottom tom heads and the hole you had cut in your front bass drum head, all I kept thinking was that those dots looked like mouse ears and the smile hole in the bass drum head made me think that I was looking at the image from far away like The Mickey Mouse logo!"
Vic... You are a hero to me and you always made me feel great and you always made me laugh!!!!
...and a successful businessman -- probably the only person I can think of who excelled in both realms so completely. For years he was the timpanist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Founder of Vic Firth Company, he was also an incredibly important teacher, innovator, composer and industry guiding light. A multiple-hat wearing gentleman exemplar. Also one of the funniest men I knew. And smartest.
I was once asked to give Vic a ride from the Anaheim trade show (NAMM) to a hotel located at Los Angeles International airport so he could catch his early flight back to Boston in the morning without too much trouble. "No problem," I replied. So my wife and I meet Vic and get him and his bag loaded into the car, and Vic sits in the front passenger seat and my wife sits in the back seat, and all of a sudden Vic is on his really good behavior because my wife is in the car and I'm on my really good behavior because he is on his really good behavior. And besides, he's starting to remind me of my being with my professor... We're not music industry buddies gossiping or cursing the night away in some restaurant or bar, and it's like the most awkward one hour drive ever. Sorry, Vic. I got kind of awed in your presence all of a sudden.
Note to Vic: you were always incredibly kind to me. Ever since we first met at Henry Adler's drum shop in New York when you showed up to show him some of your timpani mallets. I was in high school visiting Manhattan and my dad back in 1969 and I dropped into Henry Adler's shop... all of us there unannounced and enjoying Henry's full attention, which is more than I can say for the poor kid who was stuck on the practice pad in the back room for what seemed to be the longest time. THANK YOU, VIC.
It was 1994 (21 years ago!) and I was visiting the Sabian factory in Meductic. This was my first of many trips up there and I was very excited to learn the art of cymbal making. Imagine my surprise when Vic Firth shows up the 1st day. He and "RZ" (Robert Zildjian) were very close and to be able to spend time with these two icons was a dream come true.
I had been in the industry 8 years at this point, but my career was just starting to take off. After touring the factory, Vic and RZ wanted to sit and get to know me and my goals in this industry. We had a great talk that lasted a couple hours and they both had such incredible wisdom and insight from their careers. I was hanging on every word and taking notes as quick as I could. They both seemed impressed that this young kid was so interested in everything they had to say.
Vic personally invited me down to his factory in Maine where I spent an entire day learning the world of Vic - with him giving the tour and showing me a lot more than what a typical tour would have been. He invited me to stay at his house which I considered the ultimate compliment or trust and respect.
Since that time, I have remained great friends with Vic and considered him a mentor. I learned so much from him, not only from a manufacturing and business side, but a personal side that taught honesty, confidence, and respect. I have nothing but praise for him and will never forget my time with him.
I remember a NAMM appointment I had with Vic and Chuck some years ago. I had just come from another stick company meeting where they had told me what my numbers were from the previous year. Chuck handed me a sheet of paper that had my totals from Vic from the previous year. I said "we did double the business with Vic over the next closest competitor." Vic said "Is that all! You can do better than that". He was never satisfied because he knew one can and should always strive to do better! He was a great man and will be missed by everyone in our industry.
Vic and I were friends and business partners for over 35 years. I bought his early hot stamp drum sticks from him when I opened a small drum shop at the age of 18.
The first time I met Vic he was displaying the Vic Firth line of quality drum sticks and mallets at the Remo Namm Show in Chicago. At that time Vic was selling to all the major drum shops and one van jobber on the East Coast named Charlie Alden Music. Alden was a famous drummer and the exclusive distributor of Sonor drums and accessories.
The year was 1981. I too had a booth at Summer NAMM selling good quantities of Cannon toms to leading drum shops -- The Sam Ash Chain and Harris Teller to name a few. The only jobber lines I carried were: Fibes Drum Sticks, Latin Percussion cowbells and accessories and a few imported bongos.
I can still remember like it was yesterday when I got up enough nerve to meet Vic and ask him if I could be a distributor of his sticks and mallets. Vic was rated the #1 timpani player in the world. It was like meeting Buddy Rich! The first day of the show Vic told me he would think about it. The last day of NAMM I went back to Vic to see if he consider opening Universal Percussion with the Vic Firth line of products. To my surprise Vic said "yes!" We shook hands and I played shuffle the credit cards to come up with the initial order to get the Vic Firth line!
In the early years of dealing with Vic I would call late in the day to place my orders. The person who answered the phone simply said (hello). I could hear dishes and silverware clanging in the background so I thought I had the wrong number... I remember asking...is this Vic Firth?
The answer was: "Speaking."
It was Vic him self answering the phone! He ran a leading drum stick business in the basement of his house back then!
In those days he was the first company to come out with matched pairs of drum sticks in weight. He had 2 guys I got to know well when I needed to check on orders. My contact was Gary who worked for Vic for about 10 years. These were the guys who pulled and pitch paired all of my orders. Kelly and Tracy Firth were also involved in running the operation.
I always looked forward to seeing Vic at the shows because he always had many great stories to tell. He was the first guy to get and endorsement from Steve Gadd and Harvey Mason. At that time, all the drum stick companies were trying to get Gadd for an endorsement. It took about a year before the mystery black drum sticks Gadd was using were made by Vic Firth.
Everyone at Universal Percussion feels the loss of a great man and a one-of-a-kind industry icon. We wish the family our deepest sympathy.
Vic Firth has passed away. I can't think of anyone in the industry who I've met who I respect more.
In 2008, a year or so after I'd become involved in the PDT programme, I emailed Vic directly with a question about mallets for midi xylophone type instruments - I figured he was the mallet guy at the company and his email address was on the site, so why not? Imagine my surprise only days later when, as I was walking through my flat, I got a call from a US number and this nice, calm, American voice, said something to the effect of "Hi, is that Jim? This is Vic Firth."
Well, I think I'd met Vic once for a minute, but I could tell that he was such a kind person from the way he took time to discuss with me the needs of the mallets I was looking for. Vic explained that he read all his mail, but preferred to use the phone to contact people. Obviously. The fact that he could've made a "business" move in that time instead of contacting me clearly didn't matter to him, and for that I will always remember Vic as a man who inspired doing the right thing and a good thing above all else: it seems that with this in mind we can build incredibly strong relationships and achieve huge feats of creativity together.
Over the following several years I met Vic briefly at various NAMM, Frankfurt, London, PASIC, Vic Firth PDT and Mike Dolbear events. He was always pleasant, welcoming, ready to smile and laugh, and to have a photo taken with a drummer. Vic always spoke of "perseverance", he said it was the key to achieving your goals, so I try to always keep that in mind. No one has ever been such a genuinely kind human being in the industry as Vic.
We'll all miss you, Vic, but we're better for having known you and for the light you've brought to the world through your work and programmes. My thoughts are with your friends and family, thank you for everything."
This took place in 1978 at PASIC in Knoxville, TN. The Saturday night concert featured an orchestra along with Louie Bellson and Peter Erskine on drums, Vic on timpani and myself on vibraphone. The last piece of the night featured all four of us trading 8's. I remember the crowd went crazy as soon as they heard Vic's first 8 bar solo. The consensus from the musicians and the audience was that the highlight of the entire night was Vic trading 8s. He played with so much superb musicianship and panache. He was truly a special man and musician. There will never be another one like him. It was an honor and privilege to be in that concert with him and to know him.
We all know Vic as a world renowned timpanist who anchored the Boston Symphony Orchestra for 50 years. As former BSO conductor, Seiji Ozawa, said "I believe Vic is the single greatest percussionist anywhere in the world." Yet, as illustrious as Vic's musical career was, I feel that over time Vic's business career could come to overshadow his musical legacy. That's how solid a business model he has created!
Having observed Vic as a business partner over the past 5-6 years, I believe Vic was absolutely destined to be an entrepreneur. If it hadn't been the drumstick business, surely it would have been some other business opportunity which allowed him to articulate his creativity and passion.
Vic had ALL the characteristics of an entrepreneur. He was a confident risk-taker with the conviction to build something from nothing. And, with a mind that constantly needed to be challenged, he became a formidable competitor who over time became the undisputed leader in drumsticks.
But, even though one could say Vic was quite driven, he had this very warm, personable side to him. He always made time for people. Every member of the Vic Firth team understood that Vic genuinely cared about them and their well-being. In return, his people felt a deep affection for Vic. I'm sure that Vic counted the admiration and affection of his people as one of his most coveted accomplishments in life. - CAZ
To lose my mentor, teacher, the one I respected the most, the one who made music a passion, the one I always wanted to be, the one who was directly responsible for jump starting my career is similar to losing someone in my immediate family. Vic was all the above to me, and more. He was the one who gave me a shot, a chance, and made me work for every piece of talent that I had during my long and successful career as a percussionist.
Vic was demanding every week of my graduate studies at the New England Conservatory of Music... Vic expected perfection in my lessons and I felt badly if I was not fully prepared. He accepted nothing less from each of his students. Even after I tirelessly learned and performed a percussion concerto with Seiji Ozawa and the Boston Symphony, Vic acknowledged my hard work, but pushed me to go further. He expected the highest level of musicianship from those performing with him as well.
Vic opened the door for me to connect with all the freelance contractors in Boston, yielding a wealth of professional experience that I so desperately sought. My performances with the BSO as a substitute were especially rewarding - even as a professional, I was still learning from Vic by listening and watching him from only a few feet away.
He allowed me to hear the timpanist's role in music like no other I have ever heard, and I have made a point to listen/see many others. Vic pushed boundaries and provided a confident grounding to the orchestra that was impossible to imitate. It was simply...magical.
Vic was also a true friend for all the years since my graduation from NEC (1974). Not only did Vic Firth, Inc. support me professionally, they provided the utmost support for the percussion educational program at Berklee College of Music throughout my 42 years as Chair of the department.
I think of Vic every day of my life and know that he has impacted so many others like me in so many wonderful ways. I will certainly miss him...
I met Vic a few times and was always very impressed by him. What a legend and a real gentleman. To have achieved so much in a lifetime is so inspiring. His musical career alone would be enough but the fact that he started (what became) the biggest drum stick company in the world is even more admirable. I feel sure it became the world's biggest because of his ideals about how sticks should be made and how high the quality should always be.
He had a great dry sense of humour too - and really surprised me with it at a photo shoot one day. I'll always feel proud to have known him and to always have his name (literally) in my hands whenever I play the drums is of some considerable comfort to me.
What you leave behind in not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.Pericles
Vic Firth was an American classic and a visionary who exemplified that great American indomitable spirit. A courageous forerunner who followed his dream against all odds, Vic made an indelible mark on the world of percussion unlike any other and changed the world in the process. He was an incredibly talented man, but as amazingly gifted as Vic was, his talent was not the greatest thing about him.
The real legacy of a person's life will be how many lives were positively affected by their life. This is about much more than mere talent and position. In actuality, it comes down to the way one lives, and the way someone of stature makes others feel in their presence.
Vic's talent, platform, and position of influence inspired and impacted a multitude of people simply because he was a good man who walked in humility, always recognizing the importance of lifting up others.
When I was a young man in the late 70s I wrote to the Vic Firth drumstick company. Much to my surprise Vic himself took the time to answer my questions in the form of a handwritten letter. I still have that letter to this day and cherish it with all my heart. It serves as a reminder of the kind of man Vic was. It also helped to formulate in my heart what kind of man I hoped to one day be myself.
No doubt every CEO in the world is busy, but Vic took the time to stoop down to a lowly young unknown kid, and that effort graced by his personal touch impacted me greatly. From the moment I received his letter I set my heart on one day becoming a Vic Firth endorser when I was worthy.
I started endorsing Vic Firth drumsticks in 1985 and began a 30-year fruitful relationship that continues to this day. Vic always made me feel welcomed, encouraged, but mostly loved. He also never failed to have a kind and encouraging word for me, and faithfully supported all I endeavored to do.
Throughout those years we successfully collaborated on numerous projects for which we shared a mutual passion, and I look back fondly on each one with a great sense of pride and gratitude.
Though Vic was clearly a very accomplished man, he never put out that arrogant, haughty, prideful and competitive spirit that is so commonplace in today's world. Vic always made himself accessible and took the time to pose for pictures with his fans. Proof of his generous spirit is evidenced by the multitude of photos, which circulate the social media networks with Vic and fellow fans.
Vic Firth helped to unify the world through the power of music, education, encouragement, and love, and he left the world a far better place than he found it. There is no doubt his influence will be felt around the world from generation to generation, and deservedly he'll go down in the annals of percussion history as one of the greats!
When I reflect on the legacy of Vic Firth I am reminded of the words that Pericles, the ancient Greek statesmen and general once uttered, "What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others."
Theologian Charles Spurgeon summed up how I feel about Vic when he said, "A good character is the best tombstone. Those who loved you and were helped by you will remember you when the forget-me-nots have withered. Carve your name on hearts, not marble."
Baseball great Jackie Robinson once mused, "A life is not important expect in the impact it has on other lives." Well if that's the standard, then it's safe to say that the life of Vic Firth was a very important one!
It's been one of the great honors and privileges of my life to call Vic Firth a friend, and I will remain forever grateful for his generous spirit and the time we spent together.
In closing, I would simply like to say my dapper friend Vic Firth, thank you so very much for being the maverick and patriarch you were, for believing in me, for making my life better, and for all you did for the drum community. You ran the race of life well, and carved your name in the hearts of all those who came across your path.
In the process, you left a unique thumbprint on the earth that will not be duplicated. You will be sorely missed, but thankfully you left so many of us with a lifetime full of beautiful memories, and for that, we in the world of percussion are grateful!
With love, respect and gratitude,
As I write this, it has been a couple of weeks since Vic passed away. As has usually been the case when a friend, family member, or associate dies (which, unfortunately, seems to becoming more and more a part of life as I get older), I try to move from the sadness phase to a reflection on and appreciation of that person's life. When I think of the word "legacy," I really can't think of anyone I know personally who embodies this concept more than Vic. Any of his single pursuits - whether being the world's leading manufacturer of drumsticks, timpanist in the Boston Symphony, professor at the New England Conservatory, or author of some of the best-selling percussion books in history - would be worthy of crafting a rich legacy. To think this one man achieved all that in his lifetime, while providing a wonderful life for his family, is the essence of having lived a full life. I can't put into words how much I admire that. I'm glad I got to be in the percussion industry at a time when Vic himself was still in action. His appearance at any event instantly added a higher level of legitimacy, class, and professionalism to the proceedings... while still being fun. He was truly one of a kind.
Vic Firth was the first company to give me an endorsement. It was 1993 and I was just out of college, 23 years old and studying with Dom Famularo. It was Dom who convinced the company to sign me on. As I look back on my younger, more confident self, I realize that this was pretty much like taking a chance on a young, unproven pitcher: bringing him up to the big leagues, in a sense, and letting him have a shot. I certainly didn't have any big gigs on my resume! And yet, Vic Firth, Inc., took me on. Early on in my tenure as a Vic Firth artist, the company invited me and a few other young educators working under Dom's "NEP" program up to visit the factory, and it was then that I really first met Vic. He was already a living legend to me, having stared at his name in my hands since I picked up sticks at 13. Even at this first meeting, Vic's sense of fun and irreverence was on full display, and he put all of us instantly at ease. We felt like part of the family. It was a trip I'll always remember.
A few years passed and I'd see Vic from time to time at different industry events, and I was amazed that he remembered me. Surely someone as important as Vic meets hundreds of young drummers, I thought, and yet he remembers my name! This was an important lesson - and it leads me to my favorite memory of Vic. I was at PASIC in Columbus, Ohio, in 1999. I can remember I had a meeting of some kind that morning, and it was the first time I ever had to present something at PASIC, so I was up early, leaving myself an hour to get down to breakfast and collect my thoughts. Leaving my room, wearing my nicest shirt, I pressed the elevator button and when the door opened, it revealed Vic and the great percussionist and educator John Beck, also on their way downstairs and engaged in a professional and friendly discussion that only two old friends could be having. I hesitated, feeling a little awkward and not knowing if I should even say anything. Vic looked up and instantly said, "Joseph! You're just in time to join us for breakfast!" I could hardly believe it, and was blown away by the fact that these two legends would ask some young kid they barely knew to join them for a meal. Of course, my excitement soon gave way to fear that I'd say something really stupid in front of these worldly gentlemen, so for once in my life I followed my dad's old advice: "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt." But it turned out I had nothing to worry about; it turned out to be as inspiring a way to start the day as I have ever had. I was just floating on excitement that I had the chance to sit with these two greats, and glowing with gratitude for the way they had brought me into their circle.
Over the years I had the chance to be with Vic many more times, mainly at industry events, and I just loved being able to talk to him about any and every interest, from travel to classical music to paintings and so many other things! He was, to me, the definition of a "Renaissance man" in every way. I'll certainly miss his presence in the drumming business. I know that for me, going forward, Vic will always live in the small pantheon of men who I hold as the gold standard for how to live a life, as a family man, artist, and businessman. I can only hope to achieve a fraction of the success Vic achieved in all those facets.
I am so fortunate to have known you, Vic. Thank you for the sticks, for your friendship, and most of all for your example.
I am deeply saddened to hear the news of the passing of my friend Vic Firth. My very deepest condolences go out to his entire family and staff. I'll be forever grateful to Mr. Vic Firth for changing my professional life and the quality of my work with the finest drumsticks, mallets and so many other wonderful and amazing products that I didn't even know I needed until I used them! He was always super kind to me and supportive of me from day one. His kindness, genius and wonderful sense of humour will be missed. I'm sure everyone in the drumming world would agree that the man who created the "Perfect Pair" was without question one of a kind. RIP my friend.
The 27th of July was a very tough day for me as I heard the news of the passing of my good friend Vic Firth. Although Vic was known as the great percussionist, a pioneer and a leader in the drum industry firstly to me he was always a friend.
I have been asked if I have any memories about Vic, not sure where to start as I have so many stories that define what a great man he was. I love the fact that he kept important phone numbers on a piece of paper in his top pocket and would never store them on his phone, he would always call you instead of sending an email.
But one story comes to mind; about 8 years ago when Vic came over to be a guest at my ultimate drum experience week in London he came into the room and there was a young lad who had his stick bag with about 16 loose Vic firth drumsticks, Vic asked the lad why he had taken all the sticks out of their original sleeves and then explained to the young lad that each pair was equally matched and pitched. Vic then took all the sticks and sat down and paired them all. That boy was 14 years old and is now a solo artist in the UK who's name is George Barnett. I have heard that story repeated many, many times by the other members of the class that witnessed this, to me this was not surprising, it was just Vic doing his thing!
Vic was very proud of the Vic Firth brand. I still can't believe that Vic is no longer with us in person and I will miss those phone calls, meals and catch ups that we had together.
More stories at: www.mikedolbear.com/story.asp?StoryID=4104
It is with great sadness that I absorb the passing of my dear friend Vic Firth. Vic was key to my illustrious career as a studio musician. As my teacher and mentor at New England Conservatory he was demanding and thorough in preparing me as an orchestral percussionist.
Vic was also a very special friend who, in spite of his recent physical maladies, attended my recent honorary doctorate ceremony. I will always remember how proud and happy he was as I gave him major props. What a great life he lived, it ended far too early for us but he achieved so much. He will forever be remembered as "Vic," so precise, so unflappable, so fair, so decisive, so debonair, so cool!
The first time I had an extended one on one time with Vic took place at BOA Grand Nationals. I am not sure the year but it was on one of those marathon Thursday or Fridays at BOA. He and I were sitting next to each other in one of the suites overlooking the performances. He was taking a break from his meet and greets at the VF booth.
We sat for about 30-40 minutes talking about his early Boston Symphony days, his relationship with Seiji Ozawa, the times he would sneak out of the Symphony hall and visit the local coffee shop during the tacet movements of pieces, etc. I was moved by how grounded this iconic musician/businessman was. I feel very fortunate that I was on a first name basis with him. He will be missed.
I was deeply moved upon hearing of Vic's passing and, instantly, was reminded of a host of interactions I have had with this very special man over the past 35 years. The most poignant of these memories was experiencing the thoughtfulness and concern he showed when my wife, Michele, passed away after a long, heroic, struggle with breast cancer. Not only did Vic call to offer his condolences, he picked me up at Berklee College of Music after a day of teaching and took me out for the evening, offering me his friendship during this extremely difficult time of mourning. I will never forget this simple, sweet act of kindness.
Several years earlier, after a drum clinic with Danny Gottlieb and Joe Franco at Freddie G's in Boston, I traveled up to Maine with my drum industry compatriots, Tom Meyers and Jeff Hasselberger, to spend the night with Vic at his oceanfront home, followed by a day of fishing and cruising the Atlantic seas on Vic's boat. This day proved to be another special memory, experiencing the normally GQ cover, dressed-to-the-nines, Vic in a completely laid-back, casual, care free, loosen-the-tie mode. A lot of laughs permeated the day, and a wonderful sense of bonding was shared by all.
As a drummer one is, on occasion, subjected to a litany of 'drummer' jokes. In rock and pop music, drummer jokes seem to outnumber all other musician jokes by leaps and bounds, the core of these jokes centered around, 'what do you call the people who hang around musicians?' answer - 'drummers, of course'. Well, somewhere along the line, I was telling Vic a few of these jokes, and his reply was astonishing. He said that he could not understand why there is a plethora of drummer jokes because, in the classical world, percussionists are revered. He told me that, in the classical world, it is the double bass players who are on the bottom of the pecking order. I found this fascinating. So my response was, 'so then, are there classical musician jokes?' To which Vic replied, 'of course'. So I asked him for a sample. Vic says, 'what's the difference between a coffin and the double bass player?' His answer - 'in a coffin, the dead guy is on the inside!' This joke was followed by a few more hilarious 'classical' musician jokes. To this day, I think of Vic every time I tell this joke.
This man of so many accomplishments truly will be missed by scores of people in a profound way. He has inspired me to continually shoot for the stars, while always maintaining the utmost of integrity. Vic, thank you for enriching my life in so many countless ways.
To me, Vic was the one of the last of the great 20th century music men I had the pleasure to personally interact with. Beyond Vic Firth the company, owner and entrepreneur, I always felt the presence of a passionate artist. And I could always relate to his playfulness, creativity and aim for excellence, which is clearly reflected in his products.
We often talked about the nuts and bolts of the business and products and stuff and I learned a lot from the insights he generously shared with me. But it was when we talked about music and art that things evolved to an entirely different level. While as percussionists the differences between our work is quite obvious, we clearly shared the same values that drives it. And while it is a privilege to share a philosophical exchange with an artist of his calibre it was a blessing to meet a man that I understood was close to my heart.
Vic Firth was the first drum company to sign me. Vic sat down with me and he spoke to me like a friend, an uncle, a grandfather even. He shared how he was impressed by my dedication focus and playing. I was overwhelmed and stunned. Coming from Vic, this was a huge compliment. Not only did he start his own stick company & produced the best sticks, He was a fantastic player himself.
"Just tell us what you need and the guys will get it to you. You have a Hancock, right? A signature?"
Me: ah ha, yeah...
"Well, let's do that for you! Welcome to the family and thank you!"
Some years later I was invited to London with many other drummers and educators for the Vic Firth private teacher seminar. Vic presented awards for dedication and achievement through teaching and included me. I was stunned. Still am really. It hangs proud in my drum room.
At one trade show I gave Vic a gift of a newbridge Irish silver business card case. He thanked me and seemed to love it and said "My sticks are my business cards". Vic always had time for me and I am forever going to appreciate his kindness and and continued support.
Last year Myself and my Nicole visited the factory in Maine. After years of invitation I finally made it there. I am so pleased now I did. Vic had a profound influence for me and I will continue to follow his great example and be the best Vic Firth artist I can be.
Forever in my heart, Vic.
So smart. So friendly. So skilled in many areas of life besides music. I began using Vic's sticks in 1972. My teacher made it mandatory to use the Bolero model, which I used for many years on many recordings and gigs. Then, I had the good fortune to meet Vic personally and be endorsed by him to use his sticks exclusively. What a blessing that was, still is, and will continue to be as long as I play the drums.
Vic was such a professional and ALWAYS had time to talk and catch up. He made me feel that I was valuable to him personally as well as professionally. It is with a heavy heart that I say goodbye to him, but will never forget his kindness and his great smile. My most sincere condolences to Olga, Kelly, Tracy and to their extended family. God bless you my friend, wishing you a peaceful journey.
In 1997, a dealer trip to Boston was organized mixing French and Belgian dealers. Unforgettable is the best word to describe this beautiful experience. Visiting Vic Firth was a wonderful promotion for the brand, and this is one of the many reasons why Vic Firth became #1.
On top of this, a great friendship and family band was born there and still exist today between AB Music and Algam. All remaining dealers still talk about that great trip! So thank you, Mr Vic Firth for having given us an opportunity to share a fantastic adventure.
This one of a kind classical percussion giant, entrepreneur and overall sage has left gigantic footprints on the landscape of music. What he's done for the world of percussion is priceless and to have an environmental grasp on the manufacturing of his product was soulful and genius. It was a dream of mine to have a signature stick made by him.
Needless to say, getting to hang w/him a few times was a thrill. The definition of class. One thing I know is that Vic would not want us to mourn his passing but to celebrate his life. So on that note... EVERYBODY STRIKE UP A GROOVE FOR VIC!
I was at a tough point in my life where I was struggling with the balance of family, an active playing career, the drum shop, and teaching at Ohio State part time. Vic and I were talking about business issues when the topic wandered over to my stopping teaching. Vic gave me encouragement that I should be teaching and that we owed younger players to pass along our experience. I knew that he had struck a balance between the symphony, his teaching at the New England Conservatory, the business, and the family, so he had real experience. He was very gracious and encouraging, I stuck it out, and I totally enjoy it now.
On July 26th we lost a true giant. Vic Firth passed away and I wish to express my sincerest condolences to all of the Vic Firth family, company and friends. He will be missed! My experiences with Vic were treasures; he was like a musical giant father figure. I can't tell you how many times I heard the timpani leap out of a classical music station on the radio only to later hear the announcer say "the Boston Symphony Orchestra". "Sonic Personality" is what I call it, a rare quality indeed.
He was funny, irreverent, talented, elegant and generous with his time and knowledge. I treasure the times we spent together and him taking me to rehearsals to watch him play. Our conversations were always stimulating and enlightening. He was G.L Stone's ('Stick Control') protégé. My Teacher, Chuck Brown made me play and practice with Vic's Sticks back in the late 60s. I still have them as a treasured keepsake. Worm holes in the felt and all. They were "my instruments", carried in an attaché case like a James Bond secret weapon and when the stick tips got worn I would dip them in Varathane lacquer to keep them alive.
I used to have the early flyer of his catalogue, with a picture of Vic dressed in a vampire tux with tails, full head of black hair and a widow's peak that could put your eye out! Leaning over his timpani, he was the icon of how you were supposed to look, sound and be.
He was an avid art collector and we surprisingly and unknowingly shared a love of some obscure stuff. I only found this out when he invited me to his house and showed me some Neue Sachlichkeit - German New Objectivity art from the 1920s. Once at an MD fest, Vic, after hearing me play a classically influenced solo, said "Terry, you sound like you've been sleeping with Alban Berg!" These are the things that stay with you proudly, forever.
Thank you Vic for all you have shared with me and all of us percussionists. You were a true light for us, you are irreplaceable and you will be missed
The term that best describes Vic for me is "authentic". Not a false note, or a false statement ever came out of Vic. When he told you something you knew he was telling the truth, not trying to impress you or anyone else.
Vic still "had the bark on". That is an old expression meaning, "rough around the edges", like the bark on a tree. Vic would say what he had to say and he would say it in a way that could not be misunderstood.
Vic and I had musical moments together like the Modern Drummer Festival Concert we did with Ron Spagnardi, Herbie Brockstein and Don Lombardi. We were called "The Percussion Originators Ensemble." We also had a business moment or two and a number of personal moments.
There are very, very few "authentic" men. Vic was such a man and we miss him dearly
What can any of us say about Vic... he was a true master of many worlds and he kept them all bubbling. A joy to be part of. Let us not forget that he mastered his musical world at an age when most of his contemporaries where hardly on the launch pad. Vic showed us all the way a percussionist could be classy, smart, successful and an overall great guy. From my perspective the entire percussion industry got a shot in the arm and a upgrade in its ability to present itself with ground breaking and innovate production standards and innovative and useful products that were the hallmark of the "Vic Firth approach"!
Like many percussionist, Vic had an inventive problem-solving mind and you could always count on Vic for a true read. He was cold blooded when it came to sizing up a situation and offering advice. I have introduced a few percussive instruments into the market place over the years and Vic always had an eye for creativity in all the arts and new how to capitalize on them! Even though nothing I crated was a good fit for Vic Firth, he always had the time to show me who to watch out for, the dangers and the threats to being successful and he was always right!
I am now 63 and when I was in my early 20's as a struggling jazz musician, I wrote Vic a hand written letter explaining who I was and that I loved his sticks but I could not afford them, which was true. I included a cassette of my playing in a Jazz trio. Vic wrote me back a hand written letter and offered me a chance to start a relation ship with the company, it was modest at the beginning, but the fact that he acknowledged me changed my perspective on myself and gave me a huge boost! Vic would come to see me play when I performed in Boston and in the early years he and Olga where always very kind to me, that meant so much to me!
I would sometimes send him a CD of an artists that I had recorded with when I thought he would enjoy it (Nancy Wilson, Paul Simon, Betty Buckley). In the later years I never really had much of a chance to interact with him and I truly missed that occasional jolt of wisdom of an older man who knew me when I was younger and he would always take shots at me and be dead on... Man I miss that.
I started to study percussion pretty late at the age of 25 tears old after I finished my composition studies at the University of Brasilia, Brazil. The first methods I got and the first international symphonic percussionist that I heard of was Vic Firth. I was fascinated by his pedagogical books and the fact that he was starting to make his own timpani and snare drum sticks.
For the next year my dream was to have some V.F. SD sticks because my percussion instructor had some and I they were the best. My dream came true next year when a friend went to the USA and brought me a VF SD1 General and a SD2 Bolero. I used these sticks so much that they lost their round tip and became flat! I still have those sticks and they are some of my jewels.
Many years later at some PASIC I had a chance to meet the one and only Vic Firth and I was very impressed to know that such an important man was a very humble and sincere person. Much later I was invited by VF company to develop my own signature sticks and mallets and I could not believe that I was about to work with one of my percussion heroes. When my line of signature mallets came out it was a dream come true and they were even better that I thoughtthey could be.
I really liked to spend as much time as I could with him and ask all kinds of questions and I learned so much from him. He was one of my mentors, a visionary, an innovator of the industry, a fantastic musician, a great human being and an example for all of us percussionists. We will miss you Vic and thanks for being one of these persons who made this world a better place.
I had the great fortune to meet Vic on numerous occasions. Usually at PASIC or NAMM or some sort of drum event. Soon after I signed with Vic, I had a solo performance at PASIC. I was honored to see Vic in the front row, sitting with another industry legend, Remo Belli. It was quite something seeing both of them sitting together for that performance.
That evening, I had a clinic elsewhere in town at one of the drum stores. I mentioned it to Vic after the PASIC show. He was with my good friend Joe Testa and was just about to rush off to another performance. He still put in the time to note down the details and find a way to get to my evening performance, even after a full few days of drum performances around the clock.
That's the type of guy he was, completely committed and dedicated to the world of percussion. I feel so honored to have shared time with such a great man and it was really something performing for him twice in one day. Thanks Vic. You will always have a place in my heart.
Not only was Vic Firth my first endorsement, but it was the key to opening many doors for myself in the world of drums. Over the years I have enjoyed the easy working relationship and complete cooperation from this great company.
The only way a company becomes that way is from great leadership to set the tone and example. Vic Firth was a dreamer, leader and kind man that opened up countless opportunities and shined over many with his wisdom and light. There is I dare say no one who has ever played drums in the past 60years who have not felt his touch. He will be sorely missed and appreciated and remembered forever.
We could have been in a crowded trade show, music venue or restaurant; he was intently engrossed in the conversation at hand.
Speaking of restaurants, I can distinctly remember him checking the salt and pepper mills wherever we would dine. Inevitably, they would be a brand other than his and he'd be visibly upset that his superior product was not on the table. Of course, he'd follow it up with the "Vic wink". Any of us that knew him well, knew that wink. That wink was not only charming, it was comforting. Always the consummate gentleman, always humble and gracious. We can all only hope to be remembered that way.
Very few are the experiences where a master musician, artist, teacher and visionary all combine into one genuine great person. Vic Firth was one rare breed.
He left an indelible mark on the music community, with his music and his product. There are so many master musicians that will agree with this, they happen to have been taught by him or use some of the fine visionary crafting tools he created.
After many years, Vic and I met and I found what I had been admiring from a far and missing personally. A great man, with wit, style and personality who turned out to be a great friend. He not only found out how to make tools that have perfect balance and become the perfect match, but those of us who had the privilege to know him personally, found out... he was the embodiment of The Perfect Pair. I play Vic Firth.
The arc of the late Vic Firth's extraordinary career has been exhaustively documented: child prodigy, youngest player ever to join the Boston Symphony Orchestra; the greatest percussionist of all time according to famed conductor Seiji Ozawa; the most in-demand faculty member at the New England Conservatory; and founder of the world's leading drumstick manufacturer.These résumé highlights unfortunately don't fully capture the infectious enthusiasm he brought to all his endeavors.
Vic could best be described as a happy warrior. Whether it was providing the rhythmic foundation for the BSO for over five decades, imparting wisdom to aspiring percussionists, or continually refining the drumstick, he attacked every task with a joyful desire to excel. His zeal had a magnetic effect: capacity crowds flocked to hear him at the Percussive Arts Convention, musical groups running the gamut from the Vienna Philharmonic to the Grateful Dead clamored to get him on stage, and percussionists around the world gravitated to his sticks. He was an irresistible force.
Starting his drumstick company in a garage in a pre-Excel era, Vic began charting his quarterly sales on graph paper. The sales chart kept growing, as he'd tape on another piece of graph paper to accommodate another year's figures. The chart eventually got huge and unwieldy, yet Vic enjoyed stretching it out on a table to illustrate that his business had never had a down year. It was a compelling record of an enviable business career. It was also a fitting metaphor for a long life, well lived: moving forward, constantly striving for improvement, and cheerfully overcoming challenges. Vic was a singular talent who enriched the lives of many. He will be sorely missed.
Vic Firth made a big impact on my life and career. He was a musical inspiration being such a high-level performer in the classical world. I was privileged to get to spend time with Vic at various drum festivals and at the Vic Firth factory. We would discuss music and his comments and insights were always helpful.
I first met Vic Firth in the early 80s when I started using his sticks while I was a member of Journey. I got to know Vic better, and his critical attention to detail, in 1988 when he asked me to work on designing a signature stick. In 2004 once again Vic and I collaborated when we worked on my Tala Wands. I always enjoyed spending time with Vic, we always have a lot to talk about and enjoy a relaxed rapport. One reason that I was so comfortable with Vic is because he shared many qualities that my own father has including being old school, no-nonsense New Englanders. And Vic had a great sense of humor with lots of good jokes and funny stories!
One time before I appeared at the Montreal Drum Fest I was in my dressing room tuning the toms on a new kit that I was borrowing from Sonor. Vic asked me why I was hitting the heads so hard while tuning? I told him it because I was going to play them that way while on stage; I'm sure he didn't approve of my answer. Then he asked me, "Are you going to get each lug in tune?" I had tuned the drum to sound "big" and I wasn't paying attention to making sure the head was perfectly in tune all the way around. He told me to move aside, he took my drum key and tuned my toms as a timpanist would and got each drum to resonate perfectly in tune. To this day, now I tune my toms with a timpani mallet and use the least amount of volume necessary so I can really hear the fundamental and the overtones of the heads as they resonate.
I miss Vic as a friend. He would call from time to time just to check in and see how I was doing and always ask about my entire family. He was a true gentleman as well as a fun-loving man. I feel very fortunate to have known Vic.