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Born in Chicago in 1923, Sam Denov attended Lane Technical High School and, following service in the U.S. Navy during World War II, he spent a year in the Civic Orchestra of Chicago before joining the San Antonio Symphony in 1947. Three years later he joined the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra where he remained for two seasons before returning to Chicago to operate his own high-fidelity equipment business. In 1954, he was invited by music director Fritz Reiner to join the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s percussion section. Denov also later attended Roosevelt University, earning a bachelor’s degree in labor studies.
A tireless activist for musicians’ rights, Denov was a major force in the founding of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians, serving at various times as chairman, vice-chairman, and editor of the ICSOM newsletter Senza Sordino. Following his retirement from the Orchestra in 1985, he became a labor relations consultant, representing clients before the National Labor Relations Board. At the ICSOM annual conference in 2009, the delegates passed a resolution by unanimous consent honoring Denov for “his many contributions as an early leader in the orchestra field” and expressing “ICSOM’s respect and admiration as an ICSOM founder.” At the 2012 conference, he addressed the group’s fiftieth anniversary along with several of his CSO colleagues.
Widely known among percussionists, Denov authored three books: The Art of Playing Cymbals: A Complete Guide and Text for the Artistic Percussionist (1966), Symphonic Paradox: The Misadventures of a Wayward Musician (2002), and Boom and Crash Musician: A Percussive Memoir (2012). He also contributed numerous articles to professional journals.
In his retirement, Denov was an active member of the CSO Alumni Association, serving as its first president from 1993 until 1996, as a board member, and as secretary-editor.
Denov is survived by his beloved wife Lorraine, his son Ernie, and several nieces, nephews, step-children, and step-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his first wife Charlotte and his son Tyrone Walls. A memorial service celebrating his life will be held at the Brookdale Plaza (800 South River Road, Des Plaines, Illinois) on Wednesday, March 11, 2015 at 11:00 a.m.
In 2012, the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) held its fiftieth anniversary meeting in Chicago. To commemorate the event, a documentary was produced (by Tim Redman) and is now available.
Several former Chicago Symphony Orchestra members are prominently featured in the film, including Sam Denov (percussion), Tom Hall (violin), Walfrid Kujala (flute and piccolo), Richard Lottridge (bassoon and contrabassoon), and Rudolph Nashan (trumpet), offering first-hand accounts of working conditions in the orchestral field fifty years ago.
The video is available here: