Remembering Albert Payson

Albert Payson in the 1980s

Jim Steere

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family mourns the passing of Albert Payson, a member of the percussion section from 1958 until 1997, who died on June 23, 2024, in Northbrook, Illinois. He was 90.

Born on January 15, 1934, in Springfield, Illinois, Payson began tap dancing at age three, playing snare drum at five, marimba at twelve and timpani at fourteen. At the age of sixteen, he joined the 44th Infantry Division of the Illinois National Guard, where he performed in their band. After graduating high school later that same year, he began classes at Southern Illinois University, where he remained for one year before transferring to the University of Illinois to pursue percussion studies.

After one semester, at the outset of the Korean War, his division was activated and he relocated to Camp Cooke in Santa Barbara County, California (now Vandenburg Air Force Base), and he was later stationed at Fort Lewis in Washington state (now a part of Joint Base Lewis–McChord), where he earned the rank of sergeant. Following war’s end in 1953, 19-year-old Payson was able to return to the University of Illinois.

After graduating in 1956, Payson briefly was a member of the Louisville Orchestra and the Lyric Opera of Chicago Orchestra and toured with the Royal Ballet of England. In 1958, he was appointed to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra by sixth music director Fritz Reiner. Payson served as a member — under subsequent music directors Jean Martinon, Sir Georg Solti and Daniel Barenboim — for nearly 40 years, receiving the Theodore Thomas Medallion for Distinguished Service upon his retirement in 1997.

A dedicated educator, Payson served on the faculties of DePaul and Northwestern universities as well as taught hundreds of students privately. He authored numerous books on music education along with pedagogy methods for snare drum, marimba and timpani, among others. Payson also designed percussion instruments and accessories, including timpani mallets, bass drum beaters, tunable drums (called Rototoms) and an electronic induction pickup for drums, among other inventions. He was inducted into the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame in 2001, and he and his wife Geraldine were longtime members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Alumni Association.

Albert Payson’s beloved wife Geraldine preceded him in death in 2018. He is survived by his son Gene (Brandy Geeding), daughter Patti Duwel (Peter), and two grandchildren, Audrey Rose and James.

A memorial service is planned for Tuesday, July 9, 2024, beginning at 1:00 p.m. at Oehler Funeral Home in Des Plaines. More information is available here.

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