Harold Firestone – A Tribute by Jack Bell

by Jack Bell

My percussion lessons with Harold Firestone began on July 22, 1954. I was 9 years old and student # 290.

Harold Firestone 1907-1960

Harold Firestone 1907-1960

Each week, Mom and Dad would carry a heavy reel to reel tape recorder to my lesson.

When I got home from the lesson, I would lay on the bedroom floor with my ear pressed against the speaker hitting replay over and over trying to absorb all of the information he had given me.

When lesson solos were completed, Harold would record and transfer the recorded solos to 33 rpm records. Each recording was always preceded with my memorized announcement into the microphone that included: my name, lesson number, the date, the selection, and what seemed at the time ‘dozens’ of other pieces of information before the “Olympic Recording Moment” occurred. (Only one moment in time and one chance to get it right!).

A 2011 publication pays tribute to Fireston's work.

A 2011 publication pays tribute to Fireston’s work.

After almost 60 years, I still have about 30 of those old worn little records in my collection! I have preserved all 5 years of those lessons from the records, to tapes and finally onto two CDs, had a great studio “clean” them up as much as possible and can now offer them for sale as a historical archive of five years of private lessons with one of the greatest private percussion teachers to have ever shared his knowledge and experience! Back to the lessons:

To improve my awareness of pulse, he rocked me back and forth with his hand on my shoulder as I tried to read the music standing as stiff as a toy soldier. I did not enjoy having to stand up straight with my knees locked and the music a blur, but the rocking worked! I hated sight reading on snare drum and marimba and would panic each time I saw him get out another new sheet. New sight reading sheets were in a never ending supply in Harold’s studio. I learned to sight read!

When I would mistakenly play traditional grip with “Rabbit Ears” Harold would slap the back of my left stick to knock it out of my hand. One time the stick flew through the air and knocked the glasses off of his face! He no longer slapped my left stick. My left hand grip improved immediately. Years later that memory made it difficult to resist doing the same thing to a member of the famous Nexus Ensemble before an ASO concert. It worked…He will remain unnamed.

Now that I reflect back on those lesson times with Harold Firestone, I understand the significance of his influence on my life. He was a gifted artist, teacher and friend who started me on my musical journey of discovery and creativity. He kept a watchful eye on my progress until his sudden death during my 10th grade year. He was a man of empathy and patience. He taught me to work hard and to understand integrity and professionalism. He taught me to love my students. I am honored to have been a part of his studio and his life. His mentoring gave my young life the principles of systematic thinking, self-discipline, and goal setting.

Harold Firestone was such a positive influence in the life of so many young people, that he changed a small part of the world he influenced. His former students are now and will forever more be more musical, dedicated and wiser. May his legacy continue forever!

I dedicate this performance of his original rudiment sheets in fond remembrance of Harold Firestone.

Jack Bell

Harold Firestone
Harold Firestone
Harold Firestone

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