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Renick Ross papers, 1946-2022

 Collection
Identifier: BCA-056

Scope and Contents

The Renick Ross papers consist of over 450 unpublished manuscripts of original compositions and arrangements for orchestra, big band, jazz ensembles, voice, piano, vibraphone, and church settings. Composition titles, lyrics, and dedications reflect Ross’s interests in nature and poetry, his relationships to family and friends, and his personal explorations of faith and spirituality. Some manuscripts contain stage design notes, performance instructions, or correspondence with collaborators. The collection contains several versions of many works, tracing their evolution over time or their adaptation for new performance settings, particularly the works American Mass (Music for the Holy Eucharist, Rite Two) and War Prayer. Others exist in multiple contexts as part of compilations; it is not known if these compilations reflect a special use, such as performance or teaching.

The collection also includes unpublished sound recordings and some biographical material, including correspondence, clippings, performance programs, and original writings. Also included are copies of email correspondence between Berklee Archives staff and Janet Ross (Ross's widow) that contain extensive biographical details. The collection contains very little material related to Ross’s work as a craftsman or business owner.

Dates

  • 1946-2022

Creator

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research by appointment. Advance notice is required for access because materials are stored offsite. Sound recordings have not been transferred. Patrons may view an item’s original container and/or carrier, but the recordings themselves are not available for playback due to preservation concerns; patrons may request access to listening copies via onsite appointment, however recordings on obsolete formats may not be available. Contact Archives staff for further information.

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to perform or publish materials outside of Berklee must be obtained in writing from Janet Ross, donor.

Biographical Note

American composer, poet, artist, and craftsman Renick E. Ross was born August 4, 1940, in Canton, Illinois. Ross studied piano from the age of six. As a teenager, he led a Dixieland cover band, The Fidgety Five, and discovered an interest in jazz through the music of Gerry Mulligan. Following high school, Ross served as an Admiral's Staff musician for the Sixth Fleet Admirals AirCraft Carrier in the United States Navy, performing on President Eisenhower's Goodwill Tour. Ross began composing while attending the Navy School of Music. Discharged in 1961, he married Janet E. White on July 7, 1962.

Ross managed Karnes Music Store in Evanston, Illinois for several years before apprenticing for Bill Brannen, owner of Brannen Woodwinds repair shop in Evanston. In 1974, Ross established Renick Ross Woodwind Repair in Janesville, Wisconsin, which he operated for 26 years, serving musicians across the country.

Ross composed throughout his lifetime, writing more than 250 original works for big band, orchestra, solo instrument, and voice, as well as sacred music for church settings. Ross did not publish any of his compositions, though many were written for and performed by his jazz piano band wRen, which played weekly for a local Janesville restaurant; bandmates included Holly Stanfield, Jim Seidel, and Bob Knopp. While his American Mass was performed several times in various local Episcopal churches, many other works were never publicly performed, including War Prayer and his final work, God.

In addition to composing, performing, and his instrument repair business, Ross wrote poetry, sketched, and guest coached high school bands. While coaching New Trier High School jazz ensemble students in Winnetka, Illinois, Ross met percussionist Dave Samuels, whom Ross mentored and asked to play vibraphone. Their first performance together was as the Renick Ross Trio at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago on November 3, 1968. When Samuels joined the Berklee faculty in the 1990s, Ross frequently provided original compositions and arrangements for use in Samuels’ classes.

After being diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease in 1999 and surviving several serious medical incidents, Ross retired from repair work in 2001 and focused on composing. He died in Monroe, Wisconsin on January 8, 2012.

Extent

10 Cubic Feet (4 record storage cartons, 1 letter-sized manuscript box, 4 oversized flat storage boxes)

Language of Materials

English

Abstract

The papers of American composer, poet, artist, and craftsman Renick E. Ross (1940-2012) primarily pertain to Ross’s composing activities between the 1960s and 2011. Materials primarily include unpublished manuscripts, unpublished sound recordings, and biographical material.

Arrangement

This collection has been arranged into five series: Series 1, Compositions (1959-2011, undated); Series 2, American Mass: Music for the Holy Eucharist, Rite Two (circa 1984); Series 3, War Prayer (2002-2009, undated), Series 4, Sound recordings (bulk 1959-2005); and Series 5, Biographical Material (1946-2022).

An alphabetical index of the compositions in Series 1, 2, and 3 with collocated box/folder locations has been created to assist with access to and understanding of Ross’s body of work. See "Renick Ross Compositions - Alphabetical Listing."

Custodial History

This collection was boxed by Janet Ross and transferred to the home of Berklee faculty member Ed Saindon in Methuen, Massachusetts in April 2019 by Berklee faculty member Gustavo Agatiello. Berklee Archives took physical custody of the collection, along with additional materials sent by Janet Ross, in November 2019. Additional materials were transferred to the Archives in May and July 2022.

Acquisition History

Donated in multiple accessions by Renick Ross’s widow, Janet Ross, in 2019 and 2022.

Related Materials

BCA-055 Dave Samuels papers (1958-2019) document the performance and recording activities of Ross’s student and friend, vibraphonist Dave Samuels (1948-2019), who appears frequently as a collaborator and performer in the Ross papers. According to Janet Ross, Samuels frequently used Ross’s compositions for classroom instruction and demonstration. Detailed anecdotes about Ross and Samuels's relationship are provided in the redacted correspondence file between Janet Ross and the Archives.

Processing Information

Preliminary inventory and rehousing by processing assistants Rachael Rhodes, Maia Smith, Alex Pittman, and Thomas Wandborg, 2019 and 2021. Final inventory, Intellectual order, and collection description by Ashley Gray (Processing Archivist), 2022.

The Renick Ross papers arrived foldered into compilations of compositions but otherwise in no prevailing discernible order. The arrangement scheme for the collection was imposed during processing. Oversized material was separated into appropriate housing, otherwise processing staff maintained the original folder contents.

Many compositions are numbered according to an original cataloging system devised by Ross; when provided, these numbers were added to the collection inventory. Several numbers conflict: numbers may have been repurposed, applied to a work whose title later changed, or may be page numbers mistaken for catalog numbers by processing staff. Several pieces do not have assigned numbers. Dedication information enclosed in square brackets were supplied by Janet Ross; supplied folder titles or other explanatory notes by processing staff are also enclosed in square brackets.

An alphabetical index of Ross’s compositions with collocated folder listings has been created to assist with access to and understanding of Ross’s body of work:"Renick Ross Compositions - Alphabetical Listing." While excessive photocopies were discarded, duplicates may exist in the collection.

Several books and commercial scores not authored by Renick arrived as part of the collection. Volumes that were not already available as part of the Berklee Library holdings were separated for possible cataloging, and the remainder were donated to the Berklee community. A complete list of removed or discarded items may be found within the collection’s control files.

Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin

Repository Details

Part of the Berklee Archives Repository

Contact:
Berklee College of Music
1140 Boylston St
Boston MA 02215 USA
617-747-8001