On July 26, 2015, the world lost an innovator in the percussion world with the passing of Vic Firth at the age of 85.
Everett Joseph “Vic” Firth was born on June 2, 1930, to Rosemary and Everett E. Firth, a professional trumpet and cornet player. While born in Winchester, Massachusetts, he grew up in Sanford, Maine.
Coming from a musical family, Firth exceled on numerous instruments and had focused upon percussion by the time he hit high school. By the age of 16, he had started his own band, the “Vic Firth Big Band.” When he was 21, he auditioned for the Boston Symphony Orchestra and became the youngest principal timpanist in the organization’s history. At the time, he had yet to finish his undergraduate degree at the New England Conservatory of Music. Firth also taught at the Conservatory and later became head of its percussion department.
Firth’s work gained him high praise from leaders in the music industry. Among these was the music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Seiji Ozawa, who once stated, “I believe he is the single greatest percussionist anywhere in the world.”
While he is regarded within the artistic community as one of the preeminent percussionists of the 20th century, he is perhaps better known for his eponymous line of drumsticks.
Firth did not originally seek out a career in the percussion accessories industry. His initial purpose in whittling sticks was for personal use, mostly because he was tired of the non-standardization of drumsticks. However, once people heard about his sticks, demand for his products grew, and the company that became Vic Firth officially began in 1963.
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. Firth remained with the Boston Symphony Orchestra until 2002, at which point he officially retired at the age of 72.
James Doyle, Vic Firth’s vice president and general manager, summarizes Firth’s work ethic best. “He never really wanted to slow down,” Doyle says. “Even when we said that he should pull back, that was never really an option for him.”
Vic Firth may be gone, but his legacy will live on for years to come in the form of his company. As Doyle says, “We quite honestly don’t know any way to operate other than the Vic way.”