“Mr. Tuba Ensemble”, R. Winston Morris Rocks “The Fourth Valve” tm

imagesWith dozens of albums, legions of successful alumni, Carnegie Hall recitals and countless premieres of new works and arrangements for tuba, The Tennessee Tech Tuba Ensemble (TTTE), has done everything a college group can possibly do-short of facing Ohio State in The Rose Bowl, and it wouldn’t be wise to bet against them! At the heart of the TTTE is the Sargent-General, a man of unequaled accomplishments in the realm of tuba ensembles, a founder of the Tubists Universal Brotherhood Association (T.U.B.A.),an accomplished tubist and legendary teacher and molder of young men and women, R. Winston Morris. It was he and Connie Weldon who shaped the modern ensemble, and Morris’ many contributions to tuba literature are unsurpassed. “The Fourth Valve” tm Rocks with Winston Morris!

unnamedHow do you conceive or describe the ideal tuba sound?
I can’t describe the ideal tuba sound. I can hear it… I can’t verbalize it! And of course there are many different “ideal” sounds. Is the tuba playing with the bass section? The horn section? The trombone section? Doubling bassoons? Playing jazz, playing quintet, playing an F, E flat, CC or BB flat tuba? Etc. This really identifies why we musicians are dealing with ART and not SCIENCE. I guess science could tell us a perfect tuba sound.

Of course the tuba “sound” is one of the most complicated brass wind generated “sounds” there is anyway. When you’re starting from the bottom there is much more potential for generating overtones/partials at different strengths than higher instruments.

After over 50 years of teaching and performing with virtually half the tuba/euphonium population on the planet and documenting most repertoire and recordings ever done for the tuba the answer is there is no simple answer. I STILL learn something virtually every time a student walks in my studio.

If there is anyone out there in brass land who thinks they have all the answers they are wrong! What works for one individual may well be the exact opposite of what “works” for someone else. I know many successful performers who are great but you would not have someone else emulated the way they play the horn because it simply would not work for someone with a different physical configuration which is a minor consideration relative to concept of sound. I’ve known players who could pick up a plastic Sousaphone and sound better than other players on a $25,000 state of the art brass instrument! Mind over matter really does exist!!!!

2. When it comes to jobs, you certainly aren’t a “tire-kicker”! What are some things that you can only find out about yourself and a place when you are in it for the long haul?
Well as I conclude my 48th year of teaching at Tennessee Tech University I guess you could consider that a “long haul.”

What a lot of people don’t know is that I was a high school band director (Martinsville, Virginia) for two years in 1962-64 before I studied with the late great William J.(Bill) Bell at IU in 1964. I also spent a year teach at what was then known as Mansfield State University in Pennsylvania before coming to Tennessee. This provided a fairly broad background of music education/performance/higher education experience which I have found valuable in dealing with a diverse population of students over the years.

To the specifics of your question, “what do you find out about yourself,” you find out that you cannot depend on any outside influences to motivate your professional aspirations! If you don’t have an inner drive and motivation you WILL burn out! I have two rules that I have followed since graduate school which I guess I can share with you which may or may not seem “indelicate” but nevertheless it’s the way it is! One: Nobody gives a S%#t!!! And, Two: There Ain’t No Justice!!!”

If you sit around waiting on other people to inspire you to excellence it ain’t gonna happen! If you think it ain’t fair that someone else who works less than you and is less competent makes more money and gets more attention than you do AND you let that upset your applecart, then you’re out of business.

There’s nothing greater than colleague support, and I’ve had immense support all my professional career. I am extremely thankful for this on a daily basis and I truly love all my fellow colleagues, but they have their own agenda (as it should be), or they will not be successful. Find a successful person in ANY walk of life and, whether they realize it or not, they must adhere to this philosophy or they simply will not survive. All of us know colleagues who have “burned” out way before their time. Bottom line, they simply did not have that inner self-motivation and were not getting enough pats on the back to hang in there. Maybe harsh, but that’s the way I read it 50 years later.

3. How do you stay hungry? And keep after it year after year?
I can only speak for myself. I LOVE what I do… I LOVE MUSIC… I LOVE making music… I LOVE hearing music… I LOVE teaching music… And by the way, I don’t teach TUBA and EUPHONIUM… I try to teach others how to make music on the tuba and on the euphonium. The cart is really ahead of the horse if the primary goal is blowing a horn. There is very little intrinsic value in just blowing air through a hunk of brass to see how loud and fast and high you can make a sound go. This is what the burnouts did/do. If you are making MUSIC you never burnout! Chops may go physically but you are still highly motivated.

If I were not doing what I’ve been doing for over 50 years I would have literally have no purpose in life! That’s how important it has to be, or forget it! If you don’t have that kind of commitment, then please get out of the business and quit exuding negative energy around your colleagues. Whatever the heck you’re doing, in or out of music or whatever other field, do it to the best of YOUR ability and that’s all that YOU or anyone else can possibly ask of you. If this is what you’re doing, regardless of what it is, you are a SUCCESS!!! Be the best damn garbage man you can possibly be, and you can hold your head high!!!

4. What is essential for a good warm up? Daily routine?
Any Bill Bell student can tell you about the “warm up from HELL” that he required of all his students. It was a total workout in every key from top to bottom that just wouldn’t end. Just ask Paul Krzywicki or Don Harry or any other Bell student what I’m talking about!

I DO believe in a good “warm up” routine. I do believe that each individual, after a lot of work and exposure to many different ideas, should develop their OWN best warm up. What works for one person will not necessarily work for another; therefore once a player has become their own person, I don’t believe in imposing any particular set of ideas on them. BUT, I do believe we need a good “warm up” simply to determine what kind of day we’re in for.

Everyone knows how inconsistent blowing a horn can be. You can have a “great” day or a “terrible” day and frequently with no discernable justification either way. If it’s a great day, just sit back and enjoy the heck out of it and blow that horn. If it’s a terrible day, you gotta dig in and that much harder. NO ONE cares if it’s a terrible day but YOU. (And you still have to do the gig!) But knowing what kind of day you’re dealing with is extremely important, and the best way to determine that is with a warm up of some kind which could last a minute or an hour. And then there are those days the car pulls up and you have 3 minutes before a quintet gig! We’ve all been there.

My approach to warm ups AND my primary approach to teaching the horn (gotta learn the horn first, then we can make music) is exhaustively dealing with FUNDAMENTALS. Starting with posture, respiration, articulation, etc. I drive my students crazy because I will not allow them to proceed in their attempts to make music with faulty fundamentals. This is another story that could go on and on. It’s like-don’t get me started!! If you don’t clean up the garbage NOW it will bite you in the ass sooner or later. AND it can happen in the middle of your professional career!!! I can name names of numerous people who, in mid-career, “lost it.” All kinds of reasons are given, and I’m sure valid for various individuals, but I have a sneaking suspicion that VERY early on there was a flaw in the fundamentals that were NOT dealt with at that time, but painted over-which years later came crumbling down. You’re building a 20 story building and there’s rust on the beams in the basement which were painted over. It all comes down, sooner or later.

5. How have you found such great success working with composers?

I learned early on that as a tubist we could never be any better than the repertoire we had available for the instrument. Generating new music for tuba and euphonium via compositions/transcriptions/arrangements has been a priority in my professional life. It would be difficult for me to give you an exact number, but through my personal career, studio and with various student and professional ensembles I have been involved with (we’re talking easily), over a thousand pieces generated. I have a huge number of large file cabinets filled with such works.

My basic approach with established composers has been to approach them as an equal partner in generating this or that new piece of music. It might involve a promise of a Carnegie Hall premiere (we’ve done 8 Carnegie appearances with my Tennessee Tech Tuba Ensemble, and are always premiering major new compositions), a promise that the piece will appear on the next recording (the 27th, yes, that’s twenty-seventh, recording project by the TTTE, EVOLUTIONS, appears this month, January, 2015 via Mark Records and Naxos on Amazon and all other outlets), a promise of other recordings (with SYMPHONIA, EUPHONIUMS UNLIMITED or our more recent jazz group, the MODERN JAZZ TUBA PROJECT, etc.), or a promise to be premiered at some important performance of regional, national or international significance, or, finally, as a promise of a commission!!!

NOTHING pleases me more (I guess other than any of my students being successful inimages-1 “the” business) than premiering a new piece of music for tuba and euphonium. That has been one of my major driving forces for all these years. I still get a kick out of a new piece. I won’t go into the specifics but Mr. Bell and I wrote a book in 1964/65 documenting ALL the tuba repertoire we could identify at that time. It was published by Charles Colin in New York. Years later with the help of a lot of wonderful colleagues we have released a couple editions of the Tuba Source Book through Indian University Press. This documented the incredible growth of tuba/euphonium literature thanks the the efforts of many many like-minded colleagues who dedicated themselves to generating new music.

6. How has the specific (numbers of each instruments), of the tuba ensemble over the years?
This has been a very evolving picture. Without a doubt, the standard instrumentation is the “Tuba Quartet”, which usually involves two euphonium and two tubas. From group to group, this can vary and the use of F and CC tubas is flexible depending on the requirements of the composition.

The LARGE group can and does from one year to the next and one situation to the next involve various numbers of 4 to 10 euphoniums and anywhere from 8 to 16 tubas-(with or without a mix of F and CC tubas, once again).

We do it all at my school: from quartets, to sextets, to octets to the large ensemble. The large group is best known since it has existed, more or less in it’s still current instrumentation, for 48 years now. We’ve done a LOT of pieces featuring solo players on many different instruments.

Are there any complimentary ensemble timbres that composers added that worked particularly well? Solo timbres?
We’re looking at a couple new arrangements we will perform this spring featuring solo oboe and solo trumpet. AND yes, they work!!! Of course, we perform pieces that feature a solo euphonium or tuba all the time. My basic approach to programming over the years is that I want as much variety of timbres and literature as possible. Since it’s difficult to change the timbre too much, I look for pieces on a program with a lot of stylistic differences: from jazz to Baroque to pop to contemporary to avant garde. You name it, we need the experience performing it.
Bru ABT Bill Bell jpeg
7. What is the best chamber music you have ever heard?
I performed with the Brass Arts Quintet, the resident professional faculty brass quintet at TTU, for 47 years. Due to extenuating personal commitments relative to my wife’s condition I decided a year and a half ago that I could no longer continue to promise the best playing possible. At that time, I turned the tuba chair over to my graduate assistant. Prior to this, we performed all the major pieces for quintet and this is great repertoire no doubt. The tuba ensemble repertoire at this point doesn’t quite compare with the quintet repertoire

8. Where can you envision the euphonium in a chamber ensemble (other than the tuba/euph. ensemble), so that the euphonium has an outlet equal (similar), to the outlet that the tuba has with the brass quintet?
Bottom line, euphoniumists MUST exert more effort into exploring professional options. With military bands being more or less the only game in town and with personnel being whacked with those bands it’s more critical than ever that dyed-in-the-wool euphoniumists explore every conceivable opportunity.

Years ago with the beginnings of T.U.B.A. (Tubists Universal Brotherhood Association, now International Tuba Euphonium Association) I had to insist with my tuba colleagues that the euphonium be an EQUAL partner in the formation of this organization. Not that the tubists involved were against the idea, it’s just that they weren’t thinking along these lines.

As Robert Ryker from the Montreal Philharmonic, Leslie Varner, Tuba Professor at Ball State University and myself worked tirelessly in Muncie, Indiana night and day constructing the initial constitution for T.U.B.A. this was debated and decided without equivocation that the euphonium, as a tenor tuba, MUST be included in everything T.U.B.A. During the First International Tuba Euphonium Symposium Harvey Phillips organized at Indiana University these same three people made necessary revisions to the initial document to submit to all attending to vote on to officially establish T.U.B.A. If I remember correctly it was the all-time-supreme-euphoniumist and Bill Bell’s favorite-the great Earle Louder who stood up! He offered an amendment correcting the language identifying the “tenor tuba” in constitution to specifically refer to instrument in this regard henceforth as “euphonium.” Thus, the die was cast and has been since that time up to the change of the name to include “euphonium” in ITEA.

In all honesty, as a non-euphoniumist, I don’t know that there has been anyone else who has supported and pushed the instrument to the extent that I have during the past 50 years. Of course I don’t include greats like Paul Droste, Brian Bowman, Ray Young, and all the great military euphoniumists who have existed over the years.

That being said, unfortunately it is currently a relatively sad state of affairs for the euphonium and the instrument needs much more exposure. I am speaking primarily of the status of the instrument in the United States. “Thank yous” are due the champions of the instrument: Brian Bowman, Adam Frey, Marcus Dickman (jazz) and others out there who are promoting the euphonium, but we need much more inventive thought and direction.

One of my former students, Darin Cochran, was perhaps the first full time euphoniumist to perform with a professional quartet/quintet, TOP BRASS, in the mid-late 1980s. Darin played the HORN part on a Mirafone (correct spelling in those days) five-valve rotary oval Kaiser Euphonium. He played the horn part where written! It worked and sounded great as attested to by their recordings. Norlan Bewley was the inspiration and tubist with that group. Recently Lance LaDuke, during his tenure with the Boston Brass, was known to pull out the ole euphonium from time to time.

So, there are these and other precedents involving the euphonium in brass chamber situations. Then we can go back to the all-time incredible Rich Matteson for jazz euphonium! That was as good as any jazz artist alive on any instrument. But what’s new??? Other than the usual chamber opportunities, brass bands, wind bands, vintage instrument bands, the euphonium players out there have to start shaking up the joint and exploring opportunities. Bottom line for me: the euphonium is the most versatile beautiful brass instrument there is! I want more…

c.2015 David William Brubeck All Rights Reserved davidbrubeck.com

Interested in more “The Fourth Valve” tm Interviews?
Don Harry
John Stevens
Jim Self
John Van Houten
Demondrae Thurman
Deanna Swoboda
R. Winston Morris
Beth Wiese
Aaron Tindall
Marty Erickson
Beth Mitchell
Chitate Kagawa
Aaron McCalla

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