Everett "Vic" Firth is an American musician and is the founder of Vic Firth Company (formerly Vic Firth, Inc.), a percussion stick and mallet manufacturing company that he started in 1963.
Vic Firth was born in Winchester, Massachusetts. He was raised in Maine by parents Everett E. and Rosemary Firth. Son of a successful trumpet player, he started learning the cornet from the age of four, turning over to percussion at an older age, as well as learning to play the trombone, clarinet, piano, and studying music arrangement.
Upon graduating from high school, Vic Firth attended the New England Conservatory of Music where he studied with Roman Szulc, then the timpanist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In addition to his studies in Boston, Firth made biweekly trips to Juilliard in order to study with Saul Goodman. When Szulc retired from the Boston Symphony Orchestra and auditions were held for the position, Firth was selected for the job. At age twenty-one, Firth was the youngest member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Pops Orchestra, the average age in 1952 being about fifty-five. Not yet finished with his bachelor's Degree from the Conservatory, he had to make special arrangements in order to complete his course work and degree.
Vic Firth's teaching career at the New England Conservatory also began before he had graduated, first in the preparatory department, then as head of the percussion department, a position he has held since 1950. He has guided numerous gifted students through their education, not only at the conservatory, but also at the Berkshire Music Center, Tanglewood, summer home of the BSO. Percussion students who have studied with Firth hold key positions throughout the world. He is hesitant to mention outstanding pupils, but he fondly recalls a class on percussion techniques for a Copland seminar that included three young conductors - Claudio Abbado, Zubin Mehta and Seiji Ozawa.
When asked about Vic Firth's teaching style, Late Show with David Letterman drummer Anton Fig, who studied with Firth at the New England Conservatory, stated that "Vic is a very dynamic and forceful individual. He draws you into his highly productive work ethic. His lessons give you clear direction, not only with music but with life. He provides a balanced role model for the importance of work, family and compassion for other human beings."
This work ethic, along with the support from his wife, Olga, and two daughters, Kelly and Tracy, provided the drive to succeed in the business world in addition to performing music. Unsatisfied with the sticks available during his early years, Firth, like many percussionists, began making his own. Realizing that a concert violinist might spend $2,000 to $10,000 on a bow, he thought it strange that a superior quality stick was not widely available for symphonic percussionists. He began with timpani mallets, making round heads with no seams. As his students began using his sticks and dealers began asking for them, he made the decision to expand the manufacturing process.
Unlike his other successful business ventures - an investment partnership and an art gallery - Vic Firth had no clear plan for developing his stick business. The driving principle was quality, with a guarantee that each pair would be straight and matched in pitch. What began in 1960 as a basement operation out of his home has now expanded into a corporation with two plants, a main office and 150 employees to handle the manufacture and worldwide sales of over 12 million sticks a year.
Never one to rest on his success, Vic Firth also began another flourishing venture that most percussionists may not know about; a line of professional gourmet products. For Vic it was a natural evolution from crafting wood sticks and mallets to designing professional salt mills, peppermills and rolling pins. Bringing some of the same business practices from the music industry, Firth works closely with many of the most successful chefs in the business to craft the highest quality wood products available to the home baker and professional chef.
Although most young percussionists are familiar with the name Vic Firth because of his sticks and mallets, many promising students first encounter Firth's musical substance through his numerous compositions and etudes. The Solo Timpanist and The Solo Snare Drummer etude books have set the standard for audition material at the all-state or college entry level.
As a performer, Firth recalls memorable performances with such legendary conductors and musicians as Leonard Bernstein, Serge Koussevitsky, Leopold Stokowski, Jascha Heifitz and Vladimir Horowitz. "Vic is quite simply the consummate artist," says Boston Symphony conductor Seiji Ozawa. "I believe he is the single greatest percussionist anywhere in the world. Every performance that Vic gives is informed with incredible musicianship, elegance and impeccable timing. I also feel very lucky to count him as a dear and cherished friend, and it has been one of the great joys of my life to get to know him and his dear wife Olga."
Asked what his key to success has been, Vic Firth responds, "I still enjoy the music as much now as I did when I started!" Other keys to succeeding include a highly competitive nature and enthusiasm for life. "Mostly, though," says Firth "I've just been in the right place at the right time."
Perhaps no one summarizes Vic Firth's esteem in the percussion community better than jazz drummer Peter Erskine. "I have had the great pleasure of knowing Vic personally for twenty-five years," Erskine says, "and thanks to television and recordings, I have known his great music-making as timpanist for the Boston Symphony for even longer. And I have used his sticks since high school. Vic is the consummate musician, teacher and business person. No matter whose drumstick you use, we must all be grateful to Vic Firth for raising the level of stick and mallet design and production. Simply put, I wouldn't want to make any of my music without his sticks, and I cherish the friendship of the man and his family."
Vic Firth retired from the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 2001 after a 50 year tenure as timpanist. In 1995, he was inducted into the Percussive Arts Society's Hall of Fame.
Today, the Vic Firth Company product line has grown to approximately 300 products in its catalog, and the company manufactures 12 million sticks a year.
The company's current range of products also includes a line of pepper mills, salt grinders, and rolling pins sold under the Vic Firth Gourmet brand.