Anthony J. Cirone
by Lauren Vogel Weiss
Portraits in Rhythm
, a collection of 50 snare drum etudes published four decades ago, can be found on music stands around the world. The book is on audition lists for All-State Bands as well as college and universities in over a dozen states. When the book was written, the author was just a student at the Juilliard School of Music, about to embark on a long and fruitful career in percussion.
A self-proclaimed 'Jersey boy,' Anthony J. 'Tony' Cirone was born in Jersey City, New Jersey on November 8, 1941. Although no one in his family had any musical background, Tony's mother encouraged him to play. When he was seven, Tony's mother took him to the local music store, where he was immediately drawn to the drums. When the family moved to Lyndhurst, he took lessons at the Gilio School of Music in nearby Rutherford from Jimmy Jerome, a local drumset player who taught Tony to read music and play the snare drum as well as drumset.
'During my third year at Lyndhurst High School, we got a new, young band director named William Gee,' recalls Cirone. 'He told me to study with William Laverack, a Juilliard graduate who had just gotten out of the Marine Band and was looking for students. So I took a bus to Passaic and started taking lessons.'During high school, I also made the All-State Band and Orchestra and realized I must be pretty good,' Tony says with a grin. 'That's when I considered studying music in college, which nobody in my family thought was a good idea—except my mother.' He considered applying to nearby Montclair State Teachers College and becoming a music teacher, but with the support of his mother and the guidance of Laverack, Tony was accepted to his teacher's alma mater.
Cirone entered Juilliard in the fall of 1959 and was assigned to Saul Goodman, legendary timpanist with the New York Philharmonic. 'That was certainly a stroke of luck for me,' Tony admits, 'because I stayed with Saul my entire six years there. He trained me to play in an orchestra.' Although he never lost his drive for teaching, Cirone's perspective changed to focus on performance.
'We had quite a class when I got there,' he recalls. 'Gerry Carlyss [Philadelphia Orchestra, Indiana University], Eugene Espino [Cincinnati Symphony], Gar Whaley [Meredith Music], and Lee Beach [New Orleans Symphony], to name a few. I learned just as much hanging around the students as I did in my lessons. That was quite important for me—to have met these colleagues who have become lifelong friends. That, combined with the Goodman experience and attending concerts at Juilliard and the New York Philharmonic, was quite an education.'
Cirone started taking symphony auditions during his fifth year at Juilliard. But the audition procedure of the 1960s was quite different from today's process. 'Goodman told us that George Szell was in town and wanted to audition some percussionists for the Cleveland Orchestra. I still remember my audition: the stage was set up for a full orchestra, George Szell was on the podium, and I was back in the percussion section. He said, ‘I want you to play the 'Bolero,'' and he started conducting. Normally when we play this, we get our tempo and then we're not really looking any more—we're just listening. Of course, there was nothing to listen to! Fortunately, I was watching him because he started to make an accelerando and I followed him. I think that was one of the reasons he invited me to Cleveland to take the regular audition. He even paid my way to go there! I did go, but Richard Weiner won the job.'
Cirone continued to take auditions, mainly on the East Coast, until the day Goodman told him that Josef Krips was looking for a percussionist for the San Francisco Symphony. 'Krips called Saul when he needed a timpanist eight years earlier,' Tony explains. 'That's when Saul sent him Roland Kohloff. So when Krips needed a percussionist, he came back to Saul. Of course, Saul always said that same thing: ‘I have the perfect person for you!' He always had the perfect person—whoever was next on the list!'
So Tony went to Krips' hotel in New York to meet the conductor. 'You vant to play with the San Francisco Symphony?' Tony mimics in his best German accent. 'And I said, ‘Yes, Maestro!' He shook my hand and I left. The next thing I know, I got a contract in the mail from the San Francisco Symphony. That was Goodman's influence.'
Following his graduation from Juilliard with a Master of Science degree in 1965, Tony, his wife, Josie, and their six-month-old son, Anthony, drove 3,000 miles to California and what would be the start of a 36-year career. (His daughter, Liz, was born in California in 1968).
Cirone keenly remembers one of his first rehearsals with the San Francisco Symphony. 'We were playing ‘Death and Transfiguration' [Richard Strauss], and Krips always read a piece straight through at the first rehearsal. I was playing tam tam but had studied the timpani part with Saul. I was sitting right next to the timpani, and when the piece was over, I leaned over to Roland [Kohloff] and whispered, ‘I never heard anybody play timpani like that!' He smiled and said, ‘Oh yes you have!,' meaning, of course, Saul Goodman. However, being on stage—it was overwhelming!'
Cirone also remembers one of the first European tours he took with the orchestra, then under the baton of Seiji Ozawa. 'We were playing in Paris and our opening concert was ‘Symphonie Fantastique' by Berlioz. I was playing the second timpani part, and when we started performing it hit me: We were playing this great piece of music in this great hall in the country of the composer.'
During his three-plus decades with the orchestra, Tony played with many world-class conductors, including Music Directors Krips, Ozawa, Edo DeWaart, Herbert Blomstedt, and Michael Tilson Thomas, and noted guest conductors such as Leonard Bernstein, Igor Stravinsky, Aaron Copland, Eugene Ormandy, Kurt Masur, Rafael Kubelik, and James Levine.
'Some of the best performances were with my final conductor, Michael Tilson Thomas,' recalls Tony. 'He brought a lot of terrific energy into his conducting and rehearsing. He programmed much new music, including many large orchestral works, which still stand out in my mind—the Mahler symphonies in particular.'
When Cirone joined the section, there was no Principal Percussion position; the timpanist, Kohloff, assigned the percussion parts to the three percussionists. 'Over the years, he gave me the job to do, even without the title,' Tony explains. 'When they added the fourth player to the section, that was going to be the Principal position.' Although Tony auditioned for it three times, he was unsuccessful in winning enough votes from the conductor (although he had enough votes from the rest of the orchestra committee). 'By the fourth audition, the handwriting was on the wall,' he says. Tom Hemphill joined the section as Principal Percussionist before stepping down a few years later. Jack Van Geem—a former student of Cirone's at San Jose State University—joined the orchestra as Principal in 1981.
'It was a kick playing with Tony,' says Van Geem. 'I had to adjust a little bit because I was used to him being my teacher, but I was supposed to be the Principal! The thing about Tony, right up to the very last concert we did together, is he always cared—about placement, color, everything. He wanted to make sure that it was right, and he inspired all of us to do the same—and he reminded us if we didn't!'
At the same time Cirone started playing with the San Francisco Symphony—then a part-time orchestra with a 28-week season—he also began teaching at San Jose State University. 'The previous percussion instructor had passed away a few years back and they hadn't replaced him, so by the time I got there, the percussion methods class and lessons were being given by the clarinet instructor,' Tony recalls with a laugh. 'Between Juilliard and my prior teaching experience, I was ready. I had already thought about methods and soon began a percussion ensemble. There were only six percussion students when I started, including Linda Pimentel, who went on to teach at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, and Ralph Humphrey, who became a drummer with [Frank] Zappa.'
Cirone's program also benefited from the proximity of two drum and bugle corps: the Concord Blue Devils and the Santa Clara Vanguard. Many of their drummers came to northern California to play or teach with the corps and stayed to go to school at San Jose. One former student with a drum corps connection was the late Fred Sanford. Several other students have gone on to successful careers in music, including Charles Dowd (University of Oregon), Robert McCormick (University of South Florida), Tom Vanarsdel (Murray State University in Kentucky), Wendy Couch (Melbourne, Australia Opera), Robert Erlebach and Galen Lemmon (San Jose Symphony, now the Symphony Silicon Valley), Jim Gott (Oakland Symphony), and many others. Cirone also taught at Stanford University in Palo Alto from 1983 until 1992.
'Tony coached my Bachelor's recital at San Jose State in 1970, Master's recital at Stanford in '71, and my Juilliard audition,' remembers Dowd, currently the Phillip H. Knight Professor of Percussion at the University of Oregon School of Music and Dance and Principal Timpanist of the Eugene Symphony Orchestra. 'Lessons with him were dynamic. He taught us to play musically, with character and imagination to make it all our own. He was a teacher of the highest integrity. Percussion can be a noisy instrument, and Tony treated the percussion instruments like Pablo Casals treated the cello or Andre Segovia treated the guitar. He brings musicality to the percussion world.'
Following his retirement from the San Francisco Symphony and San Jose State University in 2001, Cirone embarked on another adventure. Gerald Carlyss, who was then teaching at Indiana University in Bloomington, asked him to move to Indiana and teach. After a one-year trial as a visiting professor, Cirone became Professor of Music and Chairman of the Percussion Department at the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University, a position he held until this past spring. (Tony and Josie recently moved back to San Jose.)
Another important aspect of Tony's musical career has been as an author and composer. He began writing his book Portraits in Rhythm during the summer of 1963. 'I always studied out of rudimental books,' Cirone elaborates, 'but at Juilliard I was learning about Beethoven symphonies—and dynamics, articulation, accelerandos, diminuendos, fermatas, ritards, tenutos; all these music terms. That got me thinking of writing these snare drum pieces.' Tony began writing etudes, featuring themes—even secondary themes—and before he knew it, there were 50.
Cirone originally took the book to Chappell Music, who had published Morris Goldenberg's popular books. (Goldenberg was also on the faculty at Juilliard.) Tony smiles at the memory of their response: 'Mr. Cirone, you know that we do the Goldenberg books, and we feel that's enough percussion for our catalog.''I left there undaunted,' Cirone says, 'and went to Paul Price at Music for Percussion. He liked my book but couldn't get to it for about five years. When you're 22 years old, five years is an eternity! So I took my book to Henry Adler Studios, where I had taken some lessons, and he looked at the book and said, ‘I'll do it.' He gave me a contract and said he was going to publish the book in two years, so that was great.'
During those two years, Tony graduated from Juilliard and moved to California. 'I got the book in the mail, but it was published by Belwin Mills!' he says in mock surprise. Belwin had bought the entire Henry Adler catalog, along with all the existing contracts. 'It was quite amazing how the book caught on. I think the musical elements were different and people liked that.' Portraits in Rhythm celebrated its 40th anniversary last year, and Cirone recently donated the original manuscript to the PAS Museum.
Thanks to the popularity of his book, Tony became a consultant with Belwin Mills, writing and editing dozens of books for them over the years. As 'companion' books, he wrote Portraits in Melody (for keyboards), Portraits for Multiple Percussion, Portraits for Timpani and a Portraits in Rhythm Study Guide. To date, he has over 90 published works, including books, solos, and ensembles.
'Writing has always been a part of my teaching,' explains Tony. 'I wanted to have ensembles that contained material to train my students to play as if they were in an orchestra. One of the most rewarding pieces is my ‘Symphony No. 2' for percussion ensemble. It's in four movements and 36 minutes long, with many musical demands on the performers as well as the conductor. That's the art—to play under a conductor and be able to interpret the music.
'In the late 1960s,' he continues, 'Josie came up with the idea of starting our own publishing company and Cirone Publications was born. She served as executive editor until Belwin Mills bought us out around 1980.' That company was then acquired by Warner Bros. Publications and Tony remained on as percussion editor/consultant. Warner, which had also acquired Chappell & Co., asked Cirone to edit and add musical phrasings to several standards in their catalog, including Standard Snare Drum Method by Benjamin Podemski, both of the Modern School books by Goldenberg, and Modern Method for Tympani by Goodman. Now that Alfred Publishing Co. owns Warner Bros. (and Belwin Mills and Henry Adler), Cirone no longer serves as a staff editor but rather chooses his own independent projects.
Since 2005, Cirone has been executive editor for Meredith Music Publications, exclusively distributed by Hal Leonard Corporation. Owner Gar Whaley recently published Tony's series of orchestral repertoire books, including timpani repertoire by Gerald Carlyss and keyboard repertoire by Jack Van Geem.Cirone's latest project, 'Meredith Music Master Class Series,' released its first book in July. Timpani Master Class with Roland Kohloff: Beethoven Symphony No. 5 holds special meaning to Tony, who played side-by-side with Kohloff for eight of his 16 years as timpanist with the San Francisco Symphony. (Kohloff also played 32 years as timpanist with the New York Philharmonic.) 'Roland did such a detailed analysis of the piece,' says Tony. 'It was 19 pages of transcriptions! Roland had something to say about every entrance. When you study this piece you also learn about all of Beethoven's music. It starts out with text and musical examples and includes the original version of the music as well as a part with all the additions that Roland included. The next book in this series will be my interpretation of Stravinsky's ‘L'Histoire du Soldat.''
Cirone has also been actively involved in PAS almost since its inception in 1961. Shortly after he arrived in San Francisco in 1965, fellow percussionist Peggy Lucchesi showed him a copy of Percussive Notes and he was hooked. Cirone hosted PASIC '80 at the San Jose Cultural and Convention Center. Unlike today's conventions, then the host organized most of the artists and events, and Tony's wife, Josie, even thought of the idea of door prizes at the banquet (which became the Silent Auction). He served on the PAS Board of Directors from 1981 until 1990 and was chair of the Symphonic Committee from 2004–06. Cirone also appeared at five PASICs as a performer/clinician.
How does it feel to be inducted into the PAS Hall of Fame? 'It's a great honor,' Tony replies, humbly. 'All of my peers and role models and people that I've emulated over the years are there. It's impossible to even think about that. I look at my whole career and all these miracles along the way that kept me on track.'Cirone has also been honored by Modern Drummer magazine, who put him in their 'Honor Roll' in July 1990 after he won the 'Classical Percussionist' category in the Readers Poll for five consecutive years (1986–90). MD published an in-depth interview with Cirone in their December 1983 issue.What advice would he give to young percussionists about to embark on a musical career today? 'Music is one of the most difficult majors,' Cirone says. 'There has to be a great commitment from a person to be in this profession—not only for the practicing but for the determination to give yourself a chance to get a job in this business. A student needs to be an organized businessperson as well as a musician and an artist to be competitive. If this is what you want to do, give yourself a chance—but always be ready to change directions.'
Tony Cirone has been a performer, educator, and composer. 'I can't see one without the other,' he summarizes. 'They all work together for one purpose: to create music and to share what we have learned with younger generations to allow the percussive arts to continue to grow and advance.'
TONY CIRONE at PASIC
PASIC '83 (Knoxville, TN). Clinic: 'The Orchestral Cymbal Player'
PASIC '95 (Phoenix, AZ). Clinic: 'The Symphonic Percussion Section - Focus on Cymbals - Emphasis on Interpretation'
PASIC 2002 (Columbus, OH). Symphonic Percussion Emeritus Timpani/Orchestral Presentation
PASIC 2004 (Nashville, TN). Timpani Mock Audition (Adjudicator); Symphonic Lab: Cymbals; Symphonic Percussion Emeritus Concert;Symphonic Percussion Emeritus Panel Discussion: 'Careers in Music' (Moderator)
PASIC 2005 (Columbus, OH). Symphonic Committee Panel Discussion: 'Orchestral Recording Techniques - Orchestral Performance and Taped Audition Recording Techniques'