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Alfred Grad Roger Eiss Still Strumming His String Bass

Roger Eiss '58

Roger Eiss '58

Alfred University graduate Roger Eiss ’58 was a tuba player with his school orchestra in Saranac Lake when the school’s string bass player graduated. A crisis ensued. There were no other string bassists in the student body, and the orchestra teacher didn’t know how to teach anyone how to play the acoustic string instrument – a musical bear, frequently taller than the musician playing it.

“So I said I’ll take the instrument and the instruction manual home over the summer and learn how to play it,” Eiss says. And that’s what he did.

Now, at the age of 79, Eiss is still playing the string bass. A resident of Ridgefield, Wa., he plays in the Clark College Orchestra and was a member of the orchestra when it won second prize earlier this year in the Community Division of The American Prize Ernst Bacon Memorial Award. The orchestra, under the direction of Donald Appert, played a piece commissioned for the competition, Palmetta Suite for Alto Trombone and Orchestra, composed by Eric Ewazen. Ron Barron, principal trombone of the Boston Symphony, was guest trombonist for the performance.

“Playing behind the Principal Trombone of the Boston Symphony Orchestra isn’t bad for a country body like me!” Eiss wrote in an email to his alma mater.

Eiss plays both classical music and jazz. As a student at Alfred University, he played in a jazz combo under the director of the late and great Anthony Cappedonia, who served on the faculty of Alfred State College. He likes to describe the string bass as “like a cello with a lot of hormones.”

After receiving his Bachelor of Science degree from Alfred University, Eiss earned his Masters and PhD in chemistry. He worked as a chemist in private industry before developing careers in government and economic development. In 2014, he and his wife, Francoise Bourget Eiss, donated an original copy of "Traite Elementaire de Chimie, Seconde Edition,” published in 1793 by Antione Lavoisier, to Scholes Library. The two-volume treatise on chemistry had been in Mrs. Eiss’s family for centuries, originally purchased by her great-grandfather.

Eiss has been a regular visitor to Alfred during reunion weekends, recently as a member of a group of bicyclists who have enjoyed long distance bike trips through New York (Motto: “Different Spokes for Alfred Folks”). In 2016, however, he was unable to make the trip for Reunion Weekend due to a scheduling conflict: The Clark College Orchestra was recording its performance of Palmetta Suite for Alto Trombone and Orchestra at the same time.