Harold Firestone – Death

FirestoneDeathIt was a cold, snowy, early weekend afternoon in 1960.  I was the first to arrive for our group ensemble percussion rehearsal. Being a teenager, after knocking on the front door with no response, I took a ladder from the barn behind his house and climbed up onto the snowy roof to try peering into the second story frosted window. I could not see through it and no one answered when I went back to knock on the front door again.

His adopted sister, Arlene Trafford, and many other students had now arrived at his home. I was directly behind Arlene as we entered the house and quickly ascended the stairs to the upstairs room.

Arlene screamed and reeled back into me, almost knocking me over the banner. We found Mr. Firestone lying on the floor in an old room with his eyes wide open, staring directly at me. Apparently, he had tried to reach the entrance to the room as he died from the heart attack. How could it be that of the more than 500 students Harold taught over a 30 year period, I was the only one to experience the very moment of his death, the only one to see him before Arlene started pushing everyone back down the stairs to the parlor? That one moment, the forever vision of him seemingly looking at me alone and the influence Firestone had on me from my sixth grade year until his death in the middle of my tenth grade year, shaped much of my career for well over the next thirty years.

As Principal Percussionist with the Atlanta Symphony for 32 years and a Professor at Georgia State University for 34 years, my basic techniques and concepts actually evolved out of what I had learned from Harold Firestone on snare drum, marimba and timpani between sixth and tenth grade! So, In addition to my work with ASO and GSU, I also maintained a 20 student private studio from 4:30 pm to 7:00 pm Monday through Friday for over 32 years!

Jack Bell

 

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