Keith Kummer, 72, BSO musician, union activist

October 09, 2001|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Keith S. Kummer, former principal English horn player with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and longtime union activist and supporter of musicians' rights, died Thursday at Carroll County General Hospital. The Finksburg resident was 72.

Mr. Kummer, who had been a member of the BSO for 37 years until retiring in 1999, also was an accomplished oboist.

Mr. Kummer, whose English horn playing a critic described as "exquisitely beautiful," joined the BSO in 1962. Before that, he played with the Rochester and Buffalo philharmonic orchestras and was a member for six years of the faculty of the Indiana University School of Music.

He also taught for a year at the College of Music of the University of Colorado in Boulder.

He was on the faculty of the Peabody Conservatory from 1962 until 1979.

While serving in the Air Force from 1951 to 1953, Mr. Kummer was assigned to Sampson Air Force Base in Geneva, N.Y., where he was the base orchestra's assistant conductor and principal oboist.

A native of Flint, Mich., Mr. Kummer was 11 when he began studying the oboe almost by default. It was the only instrument left in his school music classroom. "He put it in his mouth and never took it out," said his wife of 35 years, the former Robin Young, who met her future husband while working as a BSO secretary.

In 1946, he founded and was first conductor of the Flint Youth Symphony, with which he continued performing through high school.

He earned his bachelor's degree in 1951 and the prestigious Performer's Certificate from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y.

Mr. Kummer's last performance was last month at a reunion of Eastman Wind Ensemble musicians at the Library of Congress in Washington.

"He was a first-class orchestra musician and oboist," said Dick White, a fellow oboist and a friend for 50 years, who lives in Arlington, Va., and played in the reunion.

"He was gung-ho. A solid musician. Whatever he played, he played well," said Mr. White, who is retired from the National Symphony Orchestra.

"Keith was very well-rounded and multidimensional. He was an extremely honest, sincere human being. And as concertmaster, I valued him as a great colleague in the orchestra and as a wonderful human being to work with," said Herbert Greenberg, who recently resigned as BSO concertmaster.

Mr. Greenberg described his English horn solos as "very pronounced and special."

Among his notable pieces, said family and colleagues, were The Roman Carnival Overture by Berlioz, Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances and The New World Symphony by Dvorak.

"He enjoyed being part of an orchestra; a solo was not the most important thing to him," said Mrs. Kummer.

As chairman of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Players' Committee and later as president of the Musicians' Association of Metropolitan Baltimore, Local 40-543 of the American Federation of Musicians (AFL-CIO), Mr. Kummer had lobbied for higher wages and improved working conditions.

He had been a union steward for more than 30 years and was a vice president of Local 40-543 when he died.

His tenure spanned the time when symphony players worked a 16- to 18-week season with low salaries. Many of them were forced to take second jobs, including Mr. Kummer, who taught music and drove a WB&A charter bus to make ends meet.

He helped steer BSO players through the strikes of 1968, 1972, 1982 and 1989, which resulted in higher salaries and a 52-week schedule.

"He was a very strong supporter of musicians' rights in the workplace and was very outspoken on behalf of the players. He made their voices heard and helped them gain the recognition they now have," said Jack Hook, secretary-treasurer of Local 40-543.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at Baker Chapel on the campus of Western Maryland College in Westminster.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by a son, Herbert Kummer of Yorba Linda, Calif.; two daughters, Caroline Kummer of Woodbine and Victoria Kummer of New York City; and two grandchildren.

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