Dean Drummond

Dean Drummond, the director of the Harry Partch Institute at Montclair State University's Cali School of Music, died on April 13. Drummond, a Montclair resident, was 64.

The cause was multiple myeloma, according to The New York Times.

As a professor of music and a composer, Drummond was considered the carrier of the torch of Partch's microtonal music system and creation of specialized instruments. Drummond's former and recent colleagues at MSU's Cali School of Music spoke to The Montclair Times on the breadth of Drummond's music as well as his inspiring pedagogical legacy.

"He was a very surprising musician, and increasingly so," Jeffrey Gall, a professor of voice at MSU and the director of the Cali School of Music's opera program, told The Times.

Gall, who authored an In Memoriam piece on his colleague, which is displayed on MSU's website and was distributed during recent concerts at the college, wrote that Drummond's "special gift for combining moments of crystalline intimacy, sweeping grandeur, vernacular directness and comic irony made his composing style so irresistible that it became an important voice in new music throughout the world."

Shortly before Drummond entered the hospital, he collaborated with pop musician Paul Simon, who sought out Drummond for his work with Partch's instruments. Simon visited the MSU campus to work with Drummond on recordings for an upcoming album, according to Bob Aldrich, the former director of the Cali School of Music and current director of the Music Department at Rutgers University.

"It's just another one of those amazing stories about Dean," noted Aldrich.

Drummond often had a way of inspiring students who might have come into the music school unfocused or undirected, according to Aldrich.

"Something about the whole thing of it being kind of counter-cultural appealed to them, so they could find their corner on those instruments," Aldrich said.

Aldrich arrived at MSU at the same time as Drummond, and yesterday, Wednesday, May 8, he was slated to deliver a speech in memory of his former colleague during an awards ceremony recognizing outstanding music students.

"The Partch instruments are a part of history already, and Dean had a big factor in that," Aldrich said. "[Drummond's] music and his contributions are a part of history, as well."

Drummond was the inventor of a number of unusual instruments that were suitable for a microtonal music system that divides an octave - which is typically separated into a 12-tone system - into more than 30 pitches, as per the system invented by Partch, who many consider a lion in the world of modern music composition.

Among the instruments Drummond invented were the zoomoozophone and the juststrokerods.

Drummond's passing has been a loss in the Cali School of Music, according to director Robert Cart. The Harry Partch Ensemble's performance on April 24, the Symphonic Band's performance on April 26, and choral ensembles' performance on April 27 were all dedicated to Drummond, noted Cart.

"He was passionate about contemporary music and passionate about teaching his students," Cart said of Drummond.

Gall spoke of the "living legacy" that remains in the Partch Institute, which Drummond brought to MSU when he first came to the school.

"If we are fortunate enough, what most of us really hope for in the time we're given to live on this earth, is that young people move forward and we continue our line of creative thinking. I think that's so important, and Dean has certainly achieved that in his life," Gall said.

"I wish to God it had been longer," Gall added. "If we only we could all be that fortunate."

Cart said the school would search for a successor for the Partch Institute this summer.

Contact Kelly Ebbels at
Published in The Record on May 13, 2013