Biography of Harry Ellis Dickson

Associate Conductor

Harry Ellis Dickson was named Associate Conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra in January 1980, and he was also founder, Artistic Director, and Conductor of the Boston Symphony Youth Concerts, as well as a member of the Boston Symphony's Orchestra's first violin section.

A native of Cambridge, Massachussetts, Mr. Dickson was a graduate of Somerville High School and the New England Conservatory of Music. He studied violin for two years with Carl Flesch and Max Rostal as a fellowship student at Berlin's Horschschule für Musik, and later studied conducting with Pierre Monteux at the Domain School in Maine. Mr. Dickson was active both as conductor and violinist before joining the Boston Symphony under Serge Koussevitzky in 1938.


He joined the Boston Symphony Orchestra as a first violinist in 1938 and played with the orchestra for 49 seasons, regretting only that management suggested he retire before he hit the milestone of his 50th. His other enduring orchestral relationship, with the Boston Pops, began when he stepped in to conduct as Arthur Fiedler's assistant in 1955; it lasted 44 years. His friendship with Fiedler became the subject of his 1984 book, "Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops," subtitled "An Irreverent Memoir."

''I was probably as close to Arthur Fiedler as anybody ever got,'' he said once in an interview, ''and that wasn't very close.''

Mr. Dickson was the distinguished recipient of numerous awards. He was a Chevalier in the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of the French government, and in 1971 the National Conference of the Humanities presented him a Certificate of Honoe recognizing his distinguished contributions to the humanities. He held honorary degrees from Boston's Berklee College of Music, from Curry College and from North Adams State College in Massachussets. In September 1975, the city of Somerville dedicated the Harry Ellis Dickson Center of Fine Arts and Humanities in its new Winter Hill Community School.

An ardent collector of anecdotes about music and musicians, Mr. Dickson has incorporated many of them into his book, "Gentlement, More Dolce Please!", an entertaining view of music behind the scenes. In addition, he has furthered the part-time conducting career of his close friend Danny Kaye, with whom he was travelled to many countries of the world as musical mentor.

Mr. Dickson's association wtih the Boston Pops dates from 1938. He became assistant conductor of that orchestra in 1958. In 1975, he conducted the Pops at the inaugural ceremony of his son-in-law, former Governor Michael Dukakis. The Boston Symphony Youth Concerts were instituted in 1959, and for his work as those concerts director and conductor, Mr. Dickson has been described as "that rare soul, an adult who remembers what it was like to be young, who loves young people and understands them, and who wishes to share with them that magic kingdom of the mind where music is the key."


He was also wryly pleased with his longevity. ''I've been around so long the statues in Symphony Hall were little boys when I started,'' he quipped at a Boston Symphony Orchestra tribute to him last spring.

His wife of 43 years, Jane K. Williams, died in 1977. He is survived by his daughters, Kitty Dukakis of Brookline, Mass., and Jinny Peters of Pocasset, Mass.; and six grandchildren.