Senior Columnist EdNews.org
Eastern New Mexico University
Winston Morris is Professor of Music at Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville, Tennessee. He was born in Barnwell, South Carolina and earned a music degree from East Carolina University in 1962 and studied a few years later under famous tubist Bill Bell at Indiana University. He was asked to teach at Tennessee Tech in 1967 and has pioneered with his tuba bands, his euphonium ensembles and his bands have performed at Carnegie Hall seven times, produced 22 commercial recordings and as a result of his years of work, more than 600 compositions for tuba ensemble, euphonium and tuba have resulted. In this interview, he responds to questions about his background, his accomplishments and his career- which is far from over!
1) What first got you into music, and then specifically the tuba?
First, Mike, I want to express my appreciation for the opportunity to share my thoughts with everyone. My first experiences teaching private tuba lessons were while I was an undergraduate student at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, in 1959. So, I'm now pushing 50 years of teaching. My family was in the medical profession and I was supposed to be a doctor. My mother made the mistake of starting me on piano lessons in the 2nd grade which I continued through high school. It was a "mistake" only to the extent that I was supposed to be "in training" for the medical profession!
I was born in 1941 and the little town in South Carolina where I lived did not even receive a TV transmission until the mid to late 1950s. Our "entertainment" was the radio. On really clear nights, I could actually receive radio broadcasts from New Orleans ("Live from the Roosevelt Room...", etc.) and my favorite station out of Rochester, New York (was it WHAM?) which was a 100% "modern" jazz station, later changed to "country" which killed me!). I would rather listen to the static when the reception wasn't good from these two stations than the "music" from other more local stations. Every now and then, we could actually pick up a Sunday afternoon "Symphony" broadcast. I continued to study piano and in the seventh grade a magical thing happened.
The school system hired a BAND DIRECTOR. His name was Glenn Beckley and he was supposed to have been a former member (trumpet) of the Sousa band. I can't verify this as he only stayed in the job for one year then they hired Mr. Loy Wagner (that's a W, WAGner, not a V, VAUGHner) who had been a former member of one of the Navy bands. Well, NO ONE started on TUBA in those days! So, like all good boys and girls, I started on the trumpet. I advanced to the first part fairly quickly, but for some reason was really bored.
I "explored" all the other brass instruments over the first year and a half I was in the band (while still playing trumpet). The Sousaphone just hung in the back of the band room with no takers! Finally, the director asked was there anyone willing to tackle this huge hunk of metal hanging on the back wall which had remained dormant since all the original instruments had been purchased for the new band. Only many years later did I fully appreciate why I raised my hand! My friend of many years, the famous former Los Angeles Philharmonic tubist, Roger Bobo, was the first I was aware of in the late 1960s to pose the question of tubists: "Are we tubists because of the way we are, or are we the way we are because we are tubists?"
After thinking about that for a long time, it has become obvious to me, knowing most tubists on the planet, that we are tubists because of the way we are: independent, driven, hard-headed, semi-loners happy to be the only person in the orchestra on our instrument. Think about all the "successful" tubists you know and odds are pretty good they fit this description. I loved the challenge of the instrument: making music out of this huge pile of twisted metal. The operative word in that statement is "MUSIC." The challenge is not playing the tuba.
The challenge is making MUSIC playing the tuba. A lot of people have that backwards (not just tubists) and end up getting "burned out" in their profession. That's because their priorities have been wrong. If you LOVE music and making music and you can't live without it, this has to be your priority, not playing an instrument.
2) What kind of music did you initially play? Enjoy?
After many years of playing all of the standard ("Teaching Young Fingers to Play") piano repertoire as a grammar school, junior high school and high school student, having the opportunity to participate in band opened up all the instrumental possibilities. I thoroughly enjoyed everything we did in band from the marches to transcriptions (watered down though they were) to original band repertoire. The opportunity to participate in all-state bands, regional bands and various honor bands was a real treat as anyone who ever got to do an all-state gig with William Revelli conducting can attest to.
From my New Orleans radio station and other "radio" experiences, I really loved to listen to jazz. Especially traditional New Orleans jazz (Dixieland if you prefer).
We even started our own Kool Kubes Dixieland Jass Band. BUT I played BASS, not tuba! The "progressive" jazz I REALLY loved and listened to and bought every recording I could afford (these were "78s" and early LPs in HIGH FIDELITY yet) NEVER featured the tuba. So, even though I was raised a tubist and loved "modern" jazz there were no role models (that I was aware of) to emulate (in the 1950s). Of course, I loved the standard (and MODERN) orchestral repertoire. I bought all the Louisville Symphony recordings of the latest ultra modern symphony music. Guess there aren't that many people out there these days that remember the Louisville Symphony as being the absolute leader in recording 20th century orchestral repertoire!
After a couple years as a public school band director (Martinsville, Virginia, 1962-1964), which I loved, I missed "making" music myself (being too inexperienced and immature I guess to realize that "conducting" music is "making" music: guess we're talking about blowing a horn here!). I resigned a really good position and packed up my young family with the intention of studying tuba with the one and only William J. (Bill) Bell.
I had no idea where he currently taught as I assumed he was still a member of the New York Philharmonic. For those who don't recognize the name, Bill Bell was the first "greatest" tuba artist in the world. He was Sousa's first chair tubist, he was Toscanini's tubist in the NBC Symphony and he was tubist with the New Philharmonic for many years. In 1964, it was my great honor to be accepted as one of Mr. Bell's tuba students at Indiana University where he had been teaching for a couple years at that point.
I completed my master's degree and a year's worth of work on the doctorate at Indiana University with a one semester break to teach at Mansfield State College (now University) in Mansfield, Pennsylvania (spring 1966).
3) When did you first start at Tennessee Tech ? How long have you been there and what have those years been like?
I joined the faculty at Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville, Tennessee in the fall of 1967 and currently am in my 41st year of teaching tuba/euphonium here. Like most tubists who entered tuba positions in the late 1960s and through the 1970s, we owe our jobs (full time tuba positions in schools of music) to my second greatest tuba artist in all the world: Harvey Phillips (also a Bill Bell student). The sole reason schools of music throughout the USA established full time tuba positions during those years was to accommodate a full time in-resident faculty brass quintet.
This we owe to the New York Brass Quintet and Harvey Phillips for making sure that the TUBA was the standard bass voice instrument in the brass quintet instrumentation. With no apologies to all my bass trombone colleagues around the world, if the American Brass Quintet (phenomenal incredible ensemble that it is) had become the "standard" quintet instrumentation, these tuba positions would never have materialized. After all, tubists needed those gigs a lot more than trombonists did!
As a result, I am now in my 41st year of performing with a great ensemble (the Brass Arts Quintet) and teaching at an institution that has been extremely supportive of all the crazy tuba stuff we've done over the years.
4) Tell us about some of your writings and books .
My teacher, Bill Bell, and I collaborated on a book on tuba literature, the "Encyclopedia of Literature for the Tuba" that was published in 1966. Several years later "The Tuba Music Guide" was published in 1973 by the Instrumentalist Company and was highly regarded throughout the brass world as THE definitive publication and reviewed at the time as "the most comprehensive annotated bibliography of music ever compiled for any one instrument."
I fought the instinct to upgrade these publications for over twenty years until I couldn't stand it any more and Ed Goldstein, Baltimore tubist, finally talked me into serving with him as the senior editor for "The Tuba Source Book" which was released in 1996 by Indiana University Press. More recently an upgrade of that publication compiled with the assistance of Daniel Perantoni, Indiana University, and several dozen major tuba artists from all over the world, the "New Tuba Source Book" has just been released by I U Press. I'm also very proud to have served as volume editor and prime instigator for the recent I U Press release of the "Euphonium Source Book" edited by two former euphonium students of mine, Lloyd Bone and Eric Paull and a large number of outstanding euphoniumists from throughout the world. (Check these publications out on the Indiana University Press website.)
One might say that I've been obsessed with the advancement of tuba/euphonium repertoire/literature for the past 50 years either as a student or professional teacher. You've got to remember, the tuba wasn't even invented until 1835 and the first serious compositions for tuba (Hindemith, Ralph Vaughan Williams) did not exist until the mid-1950s!
I was already a high school student before these works were commonly available relegated to performing "serious" tuba repertoire like "Beelzebub," "The Happy Hippo," and "Solo Pomposo"! Starting primarily with Harvey Phillips, then Roger Bobo, and others of us in the 60s and 70s, we started making major attempts in attracting serious composers to compose for the tuba and the euphonium. One need only consult the recently released "source" books to understand the incredible advancement in the repertoire for these instruments. I like to explain to my non-tuba colleagues on more "established" instruments that the tuba is relatively speaking just now enjoying its adolescence.
We do not have a history of repertoire extending back to the baroque period, the classical period or even the romantic period. It was half way through the 20th century before our first major compositions were even conceived.
Other publications of mine include the "Introduction to Orchestral Excerpts for the Tuba" published by Shawnee Press and a large number of transcribed and arranged solo and ensemble works for tuba published by The Brass Press, Southern Music Company, and a signature collection of publications, the R. Winston Morris Solo and Ensemble Series, released by Ludwig Music Publishing Company and a new series of "legit" and jazz ensemble publications through RBC Publications.
5) Please tell us about the Tennessee Tech Tuba Ensemble (TTTE).
The Tennessee Technological University Tuba Ensemble recently celebrated their 40th year of performances and recording activity. The ensemble has been selected by The Tennessee Board of Regents to receive the prestigious TBR Academic Excellence and Quality Award. The TTTE is the first music program in the state of Tennessee to receive this award.
The TTTE has performed extensively throughout the eastern half of the United States for the past forty years. We have presented performances at regional, national and international symposia and workshops sponsored by T.U.B.A (I.T.E.A.), the International Brass Congress, and the Music Educators National Conference (MENC). We have produced twenty-three commercially available recordings that have received the highest accolades from members of the music profession with a dozen or so CDs currently available through Mark Records in Buffalo,New York, that have enjoyed appearances on the grammy entry list. The TTTE is responsible for hundreds of arrangements and compositions for tuba ensemble and for providing the inspiration and leadership for the formation of such ensembles internationally. The TTTE has performed hundreds of concerts in such diverse venues as on Bourbon Street and at the New Orleans Jazz Festival, Disney World, the National MENC Conference in Chicago, the International T.U.B.A. Conference in Austin, the Kennedy Center in Washington, the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, two world's fairs appearances (New Orleans and Knoxville) and seven unprecedented Carnegie Recital Hall appearances.
6) I have often heard it said that "If you put a musical instrument into a child's hands early enough, those hands will never hold a gun or a knife to harm or injure others". I am not sure who said it, but what are your thoughts on it?
I have been a music educator since I gave my first private tuba lesson to a high school student in 1959. I have worked with "students" of all ages from kindergarten to graduate students to professional. I can count the "bad apples" (REALLY bad!) that I was aware of on one hand. I don't know what it is about music that attracts people that enjoy it so much they don't want to do anything to interfere with that enjoyment. I am totally NOT up on the "hip" culture that exists today but it seems to me that music has the potential of offering anyone the opportunity to advance themselves as a human being and as a constructive member of society.
Music and the arts MUST be in every school system in this country and everyone involved in the educational establishment must do everything they can to see that the arts are not the FIRST thing to go when the budget gets tight.
If children do not have access to "legitimate" means of expression they will resort to negative behavior and there is no doubt that carries over into adulthood.
7) Where has the Tennessee Tech Tuba Ensemble performed? SEE NUMBER 5 ABOVE WHICH I THINK ANSWERS THIS QUESTION...
Performances by the TTTE have been presented from New York to Chicago , from Florida to Texas , and almost everywhere in between. Appearances have been made at regional and national Music Educators National Conference (MENC) workshops; regional, national, and international Tubists Universal Brotherhood Association (T.U.B.A.) workshops; the New Orleans Jazz Festival, Preservation Hall, and Mardi Gras Parades; the 1984 International Brass Congress; Disney World; Kennedy Center and the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.; the Spoleto Festival; TV work for PM Magazine and annual PBS productions; and the world's fairs in Knoxville, Tennessee, and New Orleans, Louisiana.
8) I understand that you have an Alumni page on your web site, specifically for those that you have mentored. How did this come about and who are some of the outstanding artists?
Last year was the 40th anniversary of the Tennessee Tech Tuba Ensemble and, of course, we had a major blow out that lasted most of the year. We raised over $50,000 to commission nine major new compositions for the large tuba/euphonium ensemble. The composers were, alphabetically, David Baker, John Cheetham, Gregory Danner, Martin Ellerby, Eric Ewazen, Aldo Rafael Forte, Adam Gorb, Tony Plog, and Gunther Schuller.
Anyone professionally involved in music will recognize most of these names. I invited back some of the most outstanding alumni of the ensemble to meet on campus during November, 2006, to record this music and present the premiere performance of all nine pieces. The ensemble consisted of 10 euphoniumists and 12 tubists and 2 percussionists: all alumni of the TTTE and who are now engaged in professional activities throughout the country.
The ensemble performed in Chicago in December, Washington, DC in late January and presented a performance at the recital hall at Carnegie Hall in New York. The Carnegie Hall performance was reviewed in a professional publication thusly: "...the performance was stunning in its musical impact, flawless in its execution, and of major importance in adding to the repertoire of music for tubas." The recording of this music, "LEGACY," will be released this December (2007) by Mark Records.
Over two hundred former members of the TTTE were invited to bring their horns and come back to campus for a fantastic reunion. While I am incredibly proud of everyone who ever participated in our big tuba adventure over the past forty years I would be reluctant to start singling out a large number of individuals who have managed to become successful in the "music" business and other professions. Suffice it to say that we have alumni who have performed in every major professional military band, symphony orchestras throughout the country and professional quintets and other chamber groups.
It is also very rewarding to have alumni who have gone into education at every level from junior high bands to major higher education institutions. Anyone interested is welcome to explore the biographies on all our alumni on the Tenn Tech Tuba studio website at: http://orgs.tntech.edu/tuba/index.html. We put our mouth where our music is also by presenting many sound files from our recordings on the website.
9) What question have I neglected to ask?
After almost 50 years of teaching, the most popular question I get, of course, (from individuals lined up to get my job perhaps!) is "when are you going to retire?" Anyone who has done anything for this many years I'm sure gets this question all the time.
I've come to the conclusion that evidently I'm too stupid to retire, don't have a life without working, and/or I just don't have time to retire! I am most receptive to anyone out there who might have a suggestion as to how to resolve any one of these three issues.
10) Are there web sites where aspiring musicians and interested others can get more information?
Tenn Tech Tuba Web Page: http://orgs.tntech.edu/tuba/index.html
Tenn Tech University Page: http://www.tntech.edu/
Dept. of Music Page: http://www.tntech.edu/musicandart/
Check out Brass Arts Quintet http://www.tntech.edu/brass/baq
Check out MJT PROJECT http://webpages.charter.net/mjtproject/
Check out SYMPHONIA http://www.dwerden.com/symphonia/
Published November 20, 2007
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