Passing away of Thomas Rossing

Tue 16 Aug 2022

Our colleague and friend Thomas Rossing, a well-known and esteemed figure in the musical acoustics community, died on July 14, 2022 at the age of 93.

Tom was born on March 27, 1929 in Madison, South Dakota. After graduating from Luther College (Iowa, 1950), he completed his PhD in physics at Iowa State University in 1954. After a short time at Univac, he discovered his love and enthusiasm for teaching at St. Olaf College in Northfield (Minnesota) in 1957. He moved to Northern Illinois University (de Kalb) in 1971 where he started to develop a widely recognized research and teaching program in acoustics until his retirement in 2005. From 2005 to 2019, he was a visiting professor at Stanford University.

Thomas Rossing is the author (or co-author) of 17 books and over 400 scientific publications in many different areas of research : acoustics, condensed matter physics, magnetism, and others. However, his main contribution is in the field of musical acoustics. His two books « The science of sound » and « Physics of musical instruments » (co-authored with Neville Fletcher) are on the desk of nearly every student graduating in musical acoustics around the world.

His main contributions in musical acoustics are undoubtedly in the field of percussion instruments. He was the first to tackle the physical problems of gongs, cymbals, steelpans, drums, and other exotic instruments, and to imagine ingenious experiments in order to better understand their behaviour. He is also recognized for significant contributions in the acoustics of guitars and of the singing voice, together with other co-authors. Tom also contributed to popularizing the application of experimental modal analysis to musical instruments.

Tom received both the Silver and the Gold medal of the Acoustical Society of America. He was very active in this society, and never missed an ASA meeting.You could meet him at each musical acoustics session, encouraging young colleagues and students. He had a pronounced passion for education, and from an early stage had the good intuition that musical acoustics was an extraordinary field for engaging students with physics and music. He also had a strong curiosity for the instruments and music of each country in the world, such that he was able to present a new instrument at almost every meeting !

Tom Rossing was a tireless traveller. He was always interested in discovering new countries, sharing new ideas and meeting people. He also was an avid sports fan.

Let me finish with a short personal story which, I think, is a good illustration of Tom's professionalism and enthusiasm. During a trip with him from ISMA-Mittenwald to ICA-Belgrade in 1989, I realized that Tom was travelling with quite a number of suitcases. As I only had a light backpack with me, I offered to carry one of his items of luggage. However, one could not imagine how heavy it was! In fact, this particular case contained a collection of Chinese Bells that he planned to show during his talk at ICA!

Antoine Chaigne.