By Beth Sager
Admit it! You have never thought of the tuba as complex. Maybe you have not thought about the tuba at all! How many tubas players does it take to fill a Mini-Cooper? This is one of the many questions which tuba maestro Winston Morris can answer. He has tried to overcome stereotyping bias and indifference as a tuba music teacher, touring musician and leader of the Tennessee Tech Tuba Ensemble for most of his life. “Most people have the idea of a nerd sitting way in the back of the band playing an occasional ‘oomph pa-pa.’ That’s just not true,” Morris remarked. “There are lots of misconceptions about the tuba,” added Morris. For instance there is a tuba conference: on a regional, national and international basis through membership in the ITEA (International Tuba/Euphonium Association).
Morris just celebrated the 47th anniversary of his tuba ensemble prodigy. Morris does not rest on his laurels; the TTTE has more recordings (26) of their genre than any other tuba ensemble and have a tour resume that includes the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, to New Orleans’ Preservation Hall. During the interview, my antennae popped right up. As a displaced writer from the Big Easy, I was excited to hear of Morris’ love of my city and his long-time history of TTTE’s presence there.
“I’ve lost count of how many times we played there—the Quarter, Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest and Preservation Hall. Our first year, there was a police strike and Mardi Gras was canceled so we played everywhere that week,” Morris recalled. “We had to eventually quit playing on the floats at Mardi Gras because it was getting too dangerous with the mobs and the reverie of it all. They (carnival officials) revved up the standards of the flatbeds carrying the bands.”
Winston Morris has many fond memories of playing Preservation Hall. “A dear friend of mine, Allan Jaffe, worked at a gallery, which is now the Hall. He would have these jam sessions which became very popular around 1960 and ‘61. The gallery closed and he started Preservation Hall in that very spot.”
They are playing only two Christmas shows this year—Gallatin on Dec. 3 and the Palace Theatre in Crossville on Friday, Dec. 6. The Palace performance is brought to the Cumberland Plateau by the Performing Arts Alliance of Rural Tennessee (PAART). In the spring, TTTE returns to Carnegie Hall in NYC for the eighth year. How do you keep playing at Carnegie Hall? Ask Winston Morris, he’s the resident authority on everything music, especially the tuba. It’s the only tuba ensemble to ever play there.
How can there be 22 tubas in one band? According to Morris, AKA “the man behind the tuba,” tubas are versatile and produce different sounds, depending on the type, size, length, and valves. “Usually there is one tuba in each band. That’s what makes us unique—all tubas, all the time,” says Morris. The Palace concert will feature about 90% Christmas music, with other types thrown in for variety.
When not spending times with his tubas, writing reference books, and traveling to exotic concert locales in Japan, Australia and Canada, he teaches music at Tennessee Tech. Most of his students end up as music teachers all over the world, from Livingston to Liverpool. (The British Isles has the highest concentration of tuba players in the world.)
The tuba ensemble will perform at TTU on April 16, playing the exact show which is scheduled for the Carnegie Hall audience on March 13.
To learn more about the tuba and TTTE, go to www.orgs.tntech.edu/tuba/index.html. You’ll find history, discography, books, concert schedule, and listening samples. Call 931-484-6133 or visit www.palacetheatre-crossville.com to purchase tickets. The TTU Christmas Tubas will also perform a musical inservice for the students of Homestead Elementary on Friday afternoon. The Palace Theatre is located at 72 S. Main St. in downtown Crossville. Tickets are $12 for adults and $6 for students. The concert begins at 7 p.m. Last year’s concert was a sell-out.
Morris is not overcoming tuba stereotyping one tuba at a time; he’s armed with 22 of them! On Dec. 6, the “underdogs of the orchestra” will rule!