Clair Omar Musser (b. October 14, 1901; d. November 7, 1998) is as inextricably associated with the Marimba as are Henry Steinway and Antonio Stradivari with their namesakes. As a virtuoso recitalist, he performed internationally in more than 400 concerts. As an arranger, his brilliant transcriptions have been heard internationally. As a composer, his preludes, etudes, caprices, and concerti have enjoyed international acclaim by marimba artists. As a conductor, he performed at the White House, on international broadcasts, at universities, with symphony orchestras, and conducted large symphony marimba orchestras.
As an educator, he taught in numerous eastern cities before settling in Chicago where he headed the Northwestern University Marimba Department over a ten-year term. The first Master’s Degree recital at Northwestern was presented by Musser’s student, Carolyn Reid, on April 26, 1948. Musser’s innovations in grip, mallets, and technique revolutionized marimba and vibraphone playing. Out of the multitudes of compositions and arrangements for solo marimba by Clair Musser, only eight works remain in print. As an innovator, he created unprecedented designs for marimbas, vibraphones, chimes, celesta, and orchestra bells. As a designer, scores of his design patents reflect his originality in concept in the many models manufactured by both the Deagan and Musser companies. As a manufacturer, he founded the Chicago firm bearing is name. In 1975, he was elected into the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame. The last part of Musser’s life was spent as a resident in the San Fernando Valley, not more than fifteen minutes from California State University, Northridge.
Clair Omar Musser was responsible for the organization of numerous marimba ensemble groups over the years.
Some of these ensembles included:
The 25 piece “All-Girl” Marimba Orchestra for Paramount Pictures and their opening performance at the Oriental Theatre in Chicago in 1929,
The 100 piece Century of Progress Marimba Orchestra for the 1933 International Exposition in Chicago,
The 100 piece International Marimba Symphony Orchestra of 1935,
The 125 piece Marimba Orchestra for concerts in Enid, Oklahoma in 1941,
The 200 piece Marimba Orchestra sponsored by the Chicago Tribune at Soldier’s Field in 1949, and
The 300 piece Marimba Orchestra at the 1950 Chicago Fair.