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Remembering Morris "Arnie" Lang

Jul 6, 2021, 11:20 AM by Percussive Arts Society
PAS and the entire percussion community mourns the loss of PAS Hall of Fame member, Morris "Arnie" Lang.

Morris "Arnie" Lang

Morris “Arnie” Lang, a longtime New York Philharmonic percussionist and Professor of Percussion at Brooklyn College, died on July 5, 2021.

Morris Arnold Lang was born on February 2, 1932 in New York City. He grew up in the Bronx section of New York, and while in high school he played drum set for club dates and shows in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York. After a friend suggested that he look into studying at The Juilliard School, Arnie began studying at Juilliard with Morris Goldenberg while still in high school. One day, while playing duets with a fellow student, New York Philharmonic timpanist and Juilliard teacher Saul Goodman heard him, asked Lang who he was and who he was studying with, and said that starting immediately, Arnie would be studying with Goodman.

After graduating from high school, Lang enrolled as a full-time student at Juilliard, where he continued to study with Goodman and also studied with Radio City Music Hall snare drummer Billy Gladstone. Arnie was soon free-lancing at Radio City Music Hall, the New York City Ballet Orchestra, and the American Opera Society Orchestra. Eventually he started playing extra percussion with the New York Philharmonic.

Upon his graduation from Juilliard, he was offered a full-time position with the New York Philharmonic as assistant timpanist and primary cymbal player — even though Lang had never played cymbals! Lang credited Leopold Stokowski (frequent guest conductor with the New York Philharmonic) with opening his ears and imagination to the colors cymbals could produce through the creative similes, metaphors, and adjectives Stokowski used to describe the sounds he wanted. 

At that time, Philharmonic conducting duties were being shared by Dimitri Mitropoulis and Leonard Bernstein. Over the years, Lang also worked with such conductors as Pierre Boulez, Kurt Mazur, and Zubin Mehta. Along with Goodman on timpani, the other members of the percussion section when Lang joined were Walter Rosenberger and Eldon “Buster” Bailey.

Lang played with the New York Philharmonic from 1955–1995. Tours with the Philharmonic included Western Europe, Japan, Thailand, Singapore, Korea, India, South America, the former Soviet Union, Poland, Romania, and Hungary. Arnie appeared on hundreds of recordings and on television with the Philharmonic, including Bernstein’s famous Young People’s Concerts and Live from Lincoln Center. Lang was the percussionist on a recording of Stravinsky’s “l’Histoire du Soldat,”and Lang was the first person to have recorded all “Eight Pieces for Timpani” by Elliot Carter.

As a teacher, Lang taught at the Manhattan School of Music, the New York College of Music, and Kingsborough Community College, but his longest association began in 1971 when he was offered a teaching position at Brooklyn College. He started a percussion department from scratch, with only four timpani, an old snare drum, and a xylophone. Later he took charge of the Doctoral Percussion Program at City University of New York (CUNY).

In 1976, after a publishing company rejected a snare drum book he had written, Lang bought his own printing press and started Lang Publishing Company, which published his own material along with compositions by friends. Among the books Lang wrote were the Dictionary of Percussion Terms (written with Larry Spivack), Timpani Tuning, The New Conception (a book for drumset), 14 Etudes for Mallet Instruments, The Beginning Snare Drummer, and 15 Bach Inventions (transcribed for mallet instruments in duet form). In 2014, Hudson Music released Lang's instructional DVD The Gladstone Technique — a historical document of Billy Gladstone and his contribution to modern drum technique.

Lang was also a manufacturer of percussion products. When cane- and rattan-handled mallets became a scarcity in the 1970s, Arnie bought a truckload of cane and rattan and, from his basement, began making mallets for himself, his students, and others in the percussion community. He later started Lang Percussion, which manufactured Goodman timpani (in partnership with Goodman) and Gladstone snare drums and drum sets.

At the 2000 Percussive Arts Society International Convention (PASIC), Lang was inducted into the PAS Hall of Fame. Writing about Lang at the time, percussionist Gordon Gottlieb said, “Arnie Lang is one of the 'youngest' people I know. Consistently living in the present, possessing a ripe sense of humor, a keen mind, an open fascination and curiosity about so many things, a man who tells you the truth — this is the stuff you want in a best friend.”

Upon the news of Lang’s death, Peter Erskine posted, “Arnie was a cool guy. Funny. A great percussionist. Wonderful instrument maker. Teacher. An example for so many years of that place where artistry meets professionalism. Thank you, Arnie.”

See Morris “Arnie” Lang’s PAS Hall of Fame profile.

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