A Tribute to Edgar L. Kirk

Remembering professor emeritus of bassoon, music theory.

Edgar Lee Kirk, professor emeritus of bassoon and music theory at Michigan State, died Jan. 16, 2015, at his home in East Lansing, Mich. He was 91.

Born May 28, 1923, in Harrisburg, Pa., Kirk took up the clarinet in elementary school, but his interest soon turned to the bassoon. He received a scholarship to the Eastman School of Music, and completed his first two years of study there before his U.S. Army service in World War II began in Germany from 1944 until 1946.

After the war, he married Ellen Calhoun Gray in Birmingham, Ala., in 1947. He went on to receive his B.A. and M.A. from Eastman in 1948, when began his teaching career as a faculty member at Michigan State College.

Kirk later earned his Ph.D. in music theory from Eastman, and became internationally known as a bassoon virtuoso and instructor. He was a founding member of the Richards Woodwind Quintet that performed widely throughout the U.S. and Canada, including performances at the White House, Carnegie Hall, and the National Gallery. The quintet was named for Lewis Richards, a harpsichordist and an early director of the Department of Music who served from 1927-1940.

College of Music Dean James Forger also notes Kirk’s influence.

“This is both a time of mourning and a time to celebrate the rich life, accomplishments, and contributions of our colleague Edgar Kirk,” says Forger. “For more than 40 years, Ed was a steady and influential presence in music at Michigan State University in the classroom, the bassoon studio, in the concert hall as a soloist, collaborative artist and member of the Richards Quintet, and as an administrator. He did it all with dedication and expertise and helped propel the Department/School of Music to the next level.”

Kirk retired in 1989 after 40 years of service to the university. For many years, he was principal bassoonist with the Lansing Symphony Orchestra, a visiting instructor at Interlochen Arts Academy, and also performed and toured with the Rochester Philharmonic.

"The bassoon world has lost a generous pedagogue and thoughtful musician," says Michael Kroth, professor of bassoon and associate dean of undergraduate studies at the College of Music. "Even in retirement, Ed freely shared his knowledge and experiences with the musical community and it was always a pleasure to see him in the audience, or in the studio."

Kirk's former student Bill Wheeler says, "I will always remember Dr. Kirk as a true gentleman, an impressive role model, and one of the finest teachers I ever knew, regardless of subject. In so many ways, he was what I want to be 'when I grow up.' I will always gratefully cherish his memory."

In addition to his wife Ellen, Kirk is survived by two sons Lee (Kate) and Douglas (Kathy), and grandson Aaron. A memorial celebration will be held on Sunday, Feb. 8, 2015, from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. at the University Club of Michigan State University, 3435 Forest Road, Lansing. 

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