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Clair Omar Musser: A Brief Biography by Edwin L. Gerhardt

Jan 2, 2020, 00:00 AM by Rhythm Scene Staff

This marimba virtuoso, composer, arranger, conductor, organizer, manufacturer, and historian was born in Manheim, Pennsylvania on October 14th, 1901. He began the study of music at the age of 9 and later studied with eminent teachers in the East on Marimba, piano and violin.

From 1927 to 1930 he was engaged professionally as a concert marimbist in Europe and America. In 1931 he organized a 100-piece Marimba Symphony Orchestra which was sponsored by J. C. Deagan, Inc. of Chicago and which later appeared as a feature of the Century of Progress Exposition in 1933. For this notable accomplishment he received the Century of Progress Medal from Rufus Dawes. Mr. Musser organized and conducted a similar 100-piece marimba orchestra in Europe called the International Marimba Symphony Orchestra which was also sponsored by J.C. Deagan, Inc., of Chicago. This orchestra toured Europe and America in 1935 making its American debut at the Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulphur Springs, VA, and concluded its historic tour with a concert at Carnegie Hall, N.Y. The orchestra made motion pictures in France and recordings in Belgium. Mr. Musser also organized and conducted the 150-piece Marimba Orchestra which appeared at the Chicagoland Music Festival of 1941 under the sponsorship of J.C. Deagan, Inc. of Chicago. He also organized and conducted the 125-piece Marimba Orchestra for the Philips University Music Festival (Tri-State) in 1941.

Musser was a member of the faculty of the Northwestern School of Music for ten years (1942-1952) serving as Director, Marlmba Muslc Education. For his distinguished work in marimba music education he has received the Arts and Lettres Citation from the French Government, the Borez Award from the Brazilian Government in 1934 and numerous other recognitions for his achievements in his chosen field.

After many years of research and study, he conceived many original designs and has patented more than a score of refinements for the marimba, many of them manufactured by J.C. Deagan, Inc. of Chicago. Among his internationally famous marimba designs are the Century Marimba, King George Marimba, Imperial Marimba, Queen Anne Marimba and many others.

In 1948 he organized his own company, Musser Marimbas, Inc. of Chicago, whose sole purpose is to manufacture the finest marimbas and vibes possible. The company underwent reorganization and became associated with the Lyons Musical Instrument Company of Chicago, and later became an independent company.

He has had published 93 original compositions and arrangements for the marimba and has written historical articles for magazines in England and America. In addition to being one of the great marimba virtuosos of our time having been called the "Horowitz of the Marimba," Mr. Musser has instructed and coached many of today’s outstanding artists and teachers. 

To the present he has taught some 1400 students to play the marimba for periods varying from one to seven years per student. Practically all of today’s virtuosi and teachers of the marimba have been his pupils. They are carrying on his great work. The status of the marimba in the field of classical music today is largely due to the untiring efforts of this remarkable genius.

Edwin L. Gerhardt is not a professional musician, writer, or critic. His avocation is to bring together as a collection any and all literature pertaining to the marimba and xylophone for all concerned.

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