Covid claims a Philadelphia Orchestra legend

Covid claims a Philadelphia Orchestra legend


norman lebrecht

April 26, 2020

Musicians of the Philadephia Orchestra are mourning the death of Alan Abel, a member of its percussion section from 1959 to 1997 and inventor of innumerable gadgets, among them a bass drum suspended on rubber bands. Alan Abel was 88.

As a sought after teacher at Temple University, he raised generations of young percussionists.


  • B says:

    I believe he was 91.

  • drummerman says:

    It was a concert bass drum stand from which the drum was suspended. Mr. Abel also manufactured very special triangles, use by pros the world over. Many many years ago he found an old machine part of some sort. Somehow he got the inspiration to have it bent into a triangle shape, then discovered how beautiful it sounded. He bought up the entire lot of machine parts, had them bent, then chrome plated and…voila!

    He was part of a legendary orchestra percussion section which also included: Charles Owens, Michael (“Mickey”) Bookspan and the timpanist, Fred Hinger, who later joined the Met Opera orchestra. To hear great percussion playing, check out the Ormandy/Philadelphia recording of “Carmina Burana,” recorded in 1960.

    • Greg Bottini says:

      Rest in peace, Mr. Abel.
      He was certainly one of the greats, drummerman.
      Thanks for that marvelous story about the Abel triangles; I own one of each size. And I still have a pair of the “Touch-Tone” aluminum shaft timpani mallets from Hinger!
      And that Ormandy “Carmina Burana”? My favorite!

      • drummerman says:

        I remember the Hinger mallets. I never understood how anyone could play with them! In high school, I used Goodman sticks Then I was a Vic Firth student at New England Conservatory and, naturally, switched to his. Yes, that “Carmina” recording is great.

        • Greg Bottini says:

          Hi, d.
          Yeah, those Hinger mallets were weird. I could never quite find the right place to grip them because the balance was so odd. I kept them just because of their weirdness!
          I started out with Goodman mallets, then later I continued to use them and a variety of Vic Firth and other mallets.
          You may recall that Tom Gauger also made aluminum-shaft mallets which were very nice. I had a set of 3 pairs: hard, medium, and soft. I liked them a lot. Nice looking, too: blue shafts with a blue plastic handle.

  • Cubs Fan says:

    I’m so sorry to hear this. Alan was such a fine musician and decent man. My well-used and cherished Abel triangle just lost a bit of it’s glittery sound. I learned so much from his master classes. RIP

  • John Soroka says:

    Alan Abel embraced everyone with love. He is responsible for producing more percussionists in major orchestras everywhere than any other teacher, myself among them. I owe my professional life to him and consider him as a second father. He had an amazingly powerful spiritual foundation and may his family find peace in this most difficult of times.

  • Stephen Wahrhaftig says:

    Alan was a customer of mine at an audio store in Bryn Mawr. He was such a great guy. I would try to get him to say something disparaging about some conductor or another. Be he always refused. He would say something like “he presents a very clear beat”…. RIP, Alan.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    Sorry to hear this. For my money, Philly has one of the best percussion departments anywhere.

    • Guest says:

      Growing up in Chicago, I saw CSO many times in the mid 80s. How often I wished that the percussion section at that time (before the absolutely terrific Patty Dash joined) would be unavailable for just one concert so that Philly’s percussion section could be brought in. To have Herseth, Alan Abel, and Bookspan on the same stage would have been incredible.

  • Lou Hurvitz says:

    We have lost one of the greatest percussion virtuosos and one of the kindest individuals. He shall be sorely missed.