by Lauren Vogel Weiss
If Dick Schory is more than a percussionist. He is also acomposer, arranger, conductor, music publisher, record and television producer,audio pioneer, and music industry veteran responsible for instrument design and marketing. But perhaps one of the most telling facts about his impressive musical career is that nine members of the PAS Hall of Fame performed with Schory’s famous Percussion Pops Orchestra. What made this musician so specialto attract such stellar sidemen and soloists?
Richard L. “Dick” Schory was born in Chicago, Illinois on December 13, 1931 to a musical family. His father, Howard, had been a noted bandleader and percussionist in Columbus, Ohio, and his mother, Dorothea, was a Community Concert Representative for Columbia Artists Management in its Community Concert division. Following a concert by the Chicago Salvation Army Headquarters Staff Band at DeWitt Clinton Grade School, young Dick was hooked. He came home from school and told his family that he wanted to be a musician.
In 1942, the family moved to Ames, Iowa, and Schory began to take music lessons—on trumpet! But by the time he got to high school, he was playing percussion. “I played in the marching, concert, and pep bands as well as the symphony orchestra,” recalls Schory. “I started the first Ames High School jazz band, and the 16 members would rehearse in our living room every Wednesday night. We played all the school dances and special jazz concerts.
“In those days,” Schory continued, “there were no percussion teachers in Iowa. My dad taught me a lot of the fundamentals.” During his summer breaks from high school, Schory would play in the Ames Municipal Band and the summer band at Iowa State University, where he met Frank Piersol, Director of Bands at ISU. “He was my first influential teacher as well as a real mentor to me,” adds Schory. “He was such a great musician with a lot of ‘heart’.”
Schory graduated from high school in 1950 and enrolled in Iowa State University. “Even though they weren’t offering a degree in music at that time, I thought I’d get my freshman year out of the way,” he remembers.
In January 1951, after his first quarter at ISU, Schory enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and was assigned to the Strategic Air Command (SAC) headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska, where he remained until the end of his enlistment. “I probably learned more about music in the four years I was with the Air Force than I did at either Iowa State or Northwestern,” Schory says with a laugh. “We had a marching band, a jazz band, two jazz combos, a glee club, and a concert band. We were always rehearsing or performing.
“One of the things we did was a weekly television show on WOW-TV Channel 6—the same station Johnny Carson came from,” he continues. “One week was the concert band and the glee club and the next week was the jazz band, so we had to write a lot of original charts and arrangements. Of course, that’s the best kind of experience you can get—to be able to hear your music played immediately upon writing it.”
Another benefit of being in the Air Force was that during performing tours throughout the SAC Command and the Midwest, Schory often wound up in Chicago, giving him the opportunity to study with Edward Metzinger, Principal Timpanist with the Chicago Symphony. He also studied composition via a correspondence course from the University of California–Berkeley.
When Schory’s tour of duty was up, he returned to Iowa State University. In the fall of 1954 he transferred to Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, where he received a full scholarship and assistantship. Schory played in the NU marching band, chamber and symphony orchestras, concert band, wind ensemble, and jazz band. He continued to study with Metzinger while also teaching a class and private lessons to the music education majors. Some of his fellow percussionists included Tom Davis, who would go on to teach at the University of Iowa; Bob Wessberg, a top Chicago studio musician who also played with Frank Sinatra; and Jerry Olson, who later became head of instrumental music for the Chicago Public Schools.
Schory founded and conducted the percussion ensemble at Northwestern. “It was one of the first college percussion ensembles in the United States,” he states with pride. “Since there were only a few pieces published for percussion, we wrote about 95 percent of what we played ourselves. It was very different than what Paul Price was doing at the University of Illinois because we featured the extensive use of mallet instruments.
“It was during this time that I wrote ‘Introduction and Allegro’ and ‘Baja’,” Schory continues. “Tom Davis also wrote some pieces, which I published later.” These early ensembles formed the initial catalog for Creative Music, the publishing company that Schory founded in 1956 and continues to this day.
“The Northwestern Percussion Ensemble evolved into the Percussion Pops Orchestra,” he remembers. “We did our first album two days after graduation in June 1957. That recording, Re-Percussion, was the first album pressed in stereophonic sound in the industry. We had 12 percussion, two guitars, string bass, a harp, and a keyboard player. It featured several of the original compositions and arrangements that we had created for the NU Percussion Ensemble.”
Following the success of that album, RCA Victor invited Schory to join its label, and in June 1958, he recorded Music for Bang, Baaroom, and Harp. Recorded on the stage of Chicago’s Orchestra Hall, there cording was an excellent example of stereophonic sound, which helped to keep it on Billboard’s album chart for two years, including six months in the Top10. Later the album was re-released as a digital CD and has been added to Classical CD Review’s Sonic Hall of Fame as an outstanding example of the art of stereo recording.
During this time, Schory was also playing and recording with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The percussion section in the late 1950s consisted of Metzinger on timpani along with Gordon Peters, Al Payson, and Sam Denov. “I was the on-call fifth player when we recorded all the Mahler and Strauss under Fritz Reiner,” says Schory.
Thanks to the popularity of Music for Bang, Baaroom, and Harp, Dick Schory and his Percussion Pops recorded Music to Break Any Mood in 1959 and Wild Percussion and Horns A’ Plenty in 1960, both for the RCA Victor label. The latter brought him his first Grammy nomination for Arranger of the Year.
The 22-piece ensemble, which consisted of a big band plus several percussionists, began to perform more and more live concerts. “We toured every year for 15 years,” recalls Schory. “We’d go out for a few weeks in the fall and again in the spring, plus some summer tours. We played a lot of community concerts as well as college events.”
Michael Balter, President of Mike Balter Mallets and lifelong Chicago-area resident, remembers his first Percussion Pops Orchestra concert. “Dick Schory wanted the audience to have a ‘live’ stereophonic experience. Whichever percussion instruments were on the left side of the stage were mirrored on the right side, with the band on risers in the middle behind the percussionists.”
During one of his visits to Chicago while still in the AirForce Band, Schory met William F. Ludwig, Sr. and impressed him by playing drum rudiments. “I had just passed the NARD test,” laughs Schory. “Once ‘Senior’ heard me play, he asked me to give up my Slingerland drums and become a clinician for the WFL Drum Company; this was before he [William Ludwig, Sr.] bought back the Ludwig name in 1955. While I was based in Omaha, I started doing WFL clinics throughout Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, and South Dakota.”
When Schory moved to Evanston to attend Northwestern, he also began to work part time for Ludwig, doing everything from helping with inventory to writing copy for catalogs. By the time he graduated from college, he had been offered a full-time position at Ludwig.
“At that time I was performing in the studios as well as with the Chicago Symphony,” he explains. “Plus I was already recording my own albums. My agreement with Ludwig was that I could continue those activities. So I’d arrive at the factory on Damen Avenue at 7:00 in the morning, then at 8:45 catch the ‘L’ downtown and do a CSO rehearsal at Orchestra Hall. Then I’d get back on the ‘L’, finish up at Ludwig until about 6:30, and then go down and play the concert.”
“[Dick] pointed us into the direction of total percussion by including the Musser line in our catalogs,” William F. Ludwig II stated in his autobiography, The Making of a Drum Company. “He saw the potential of percussion ensembles in building a market for total percussion. He hired friends in the percussion world to compose percussion ensemble pieces at the high school level and published them himself, selling them to the company as needed. The purpose was to create a market for marimbas, xylophones, bells, chimes, and all else in the percussion world previously sold in very limited quantities. Dick Schory saw the potential of percussion expansion and aggressively pursued it.”
Schory remembers how the term “total percussion” came about. “We did an ad for the center spread in the Ludwig Drummer magazine. It also ran in the Instrumentalist, School Musician, and Music Educators Journal. It showed timpani along with a vibe, marimba, xylophone, orchestra bells, and so forth. I titled the spread ‘Ludwig Total Percussion’.”
Balter remembers that ad as if it was printed yesterday. “The picture was taken in a symphony hall. There was a drumset on a riser, plus a Musser marimba and vibe, timpani, eight concert toms, a concert bass drum—everything. In other words, total percussion! Anything that you would ever use, it was there. The ad was referred to as ‘the centerfold.’ This was in the 1960s—the heyday of the Playboy Club. In those days, if you spoke about a ‘centerfold,’ everyone thought you were referring to some girl in Playboy magazine. But if you asked a drummer, ‘Have you seen the centerfold?’ he knew you were talking about the Ludwig catalog.”
In addition to his jobs as Educational Director and Vice-President of Marketing for Ludwig, Schory was also involved in product development. One of his most important innovations is the beginning percussion kit. “I created the Ludwig Drum Kit. And when Jim Sewrey joined my educational staff, the Junior Percussion Kit,” he recalls. “The Drum Kit included a snare drum, a practice pad, a pair of sticks, a music stand, and a method book, packaged in a red plush-lined case. The Junior Percussion Kit added a set of bells. Ludwig had bought Musser by that time, and if we were going to develop mallet players, we needed to get them started early on and had to teach them to read music.
“At first [Ludwig] Senior didn’t agree and said no one was going to buy kits,” Schory continues. “So I went to Marion Karnes at Karnes Music in Evanston. He was a school dealer that I knew from my Northwestern days. He bought 75 on first showing, and when I went back to check on them he ordered 75 more! So that was the start of the drum kit business.” Schory also worked with William F. Ludwig, Sr. on the development of the Symphonic model timpani as well as the first phase of new instruments for marching bands and drum corps, including high-tension snare drums and multiple bass and tenor drums.
During his 15 years at Ludwig, Schory traveled around the U.S. and Canada as a clinician, lecturer, and guest conductor. Not only did he conduct concert bands, orchestras, jazz bands, and percussion ensembles, he also taught workshops and created the first Ludwig Percussion Symposium, held in July 1968 at Northwestern University. Schory also resurrected the Ludwig Drummer magazine—with a worldwide circulation of 150,000—which became an important educational source for professional performers, band and orchestra directors, and percussion students alike.
Schory combined two of his passions by booking his Percussion Pops Orchestra to perform seven annual NAMM convention concerts at Orchestra Hall in Chicago. “I would bring in guest soloists with the PPO that included the Dave Brubeck Quartet, Ray Brown [bass], and Doc Severinsen [trumpet],” Schory recalls. During one of those NAMM concerts, William F.Ludwig, Sr. and William F. Ludwig II—two members of the PAS Hall of Fame—performed a snare drum duet. “I wrote an arrangement based on ‘Three Camps’ and ‘Downfall of Paris’ and put the band behind it.”
The seven other PAS Hall of Famers to play with the Percussion Pops Orchestra over the years were snare drummer Frank Arsenault (who had served as the PPO road manger on several tours as well as the soloist in “Assault by Arsenault”), jazz drummer Joe Morello (who toured and was featured on four PPO albums), percussionists Bobby Christian (who toured and played on all 12 albums), George Gaber, Al Payson, and Gordon Peters, and vibist Gary Burton (who toured and was featured on five albums). “Gary was just 17 when he started playing with the PPO,” Schory remembers. “And he’s still the Paganini of the vibraphone to me.”
In 1971, Schory left Ludwig but continued with his recording career, both in front of and behind the microphone. Two years earlier, he had left RCA Victor and started his own record label, Ovation. His 1970 recording, Dick Schory...Carnegie Hall, received a Grammy nomination for Best Live Recording of the Year. He had also been nominated as Arranger of the Year in 1960, 1961, 1962, and 1963.
“The Ovation label was formed based on my development of quadraphonic sound with Jim Cunningham, an engineer in Chicago,” Schory states. “At RCA, I had developed two stereo projects: Stereo Action and then Dynagroove. Both series enjoyed good consumer sales.”
Schory produced over 300 Ovation albums featuring such artists as Joe Morello, jazz flutist Paul Horn, the Count Basie Orchestra, and even a series of hit country music singles and albums by The Kendalls. He also established the Black Jazz record label with jazz pianist Gene Russell and produced 30 more albums.
More recent projects include Media Ventures International, which is involved in television production, including the series Egoli for a cable company in South Africa. Schory is also keeping his music writing chops sharp. His latest composition is “Cubana,” written for a 20-member percussion ensemble featuring piano. Dan Moore and the University of Iowa Percussion Ensemble will premiere “Cubana” during PASIC 2011.
What advice would Schory give a young percussionist? “I’d have to say that in order to make it in today’s economy and musical environment, if you’re not a set drummer or a total percussionist, don’t even think about it.” The concept of total percussion that he coined almost half acentury ago is more important than ever.
“Dick Schory wanted to explore the world of percussion sounds,” summarizes Mike Balter, “and prove that a percussion ensemble could play music, not just rhythm. Before I went to the first Ludwig symposium, I was just a drummer. Hearing Dick Schory and the Percussion Pops opened up the world of percussion to me, and it was a life-changing experience."
As Tom Gaines said in his liner notes for Dick Schory...Carnegie Hall, Schory was “like a juggler with 15 projects in the air.” Percussionists todayare lucky to enjoy the results of all his “juggling”!