The Tennessee Tech Tuba Ensemble is the most recorded musical group of its kind in the world. For forty years the student ensemble has toured under the direction of R. Winston Morris, repeatedly performing at renowned Carnegie Hall. Filmed in Tennessee, New York, Virginia and Germany, TUBA U: Basso Profundo
explores Winston Morris and his curious tuba tribe.
For his part, Morris is The Man for all things tuba, having dedicated his life
to the instrument. Morris wrote the definitive Encyclopedia of Literature for
Tuba, the comprehensive Tuba Music Guide and the Tuba Source Book, which includes
every known published piece for tuba. Morris developed the tuba ensemble, or
choir - now popular around the world - and is responsible for more music being
written for his instrument than anyone… ever.
Not long ago, the Tennessee Tech University campus hosted a very special 40th
Anniversary performance. Dubbed “Tubas of Mass Destruction,” the concert featured
100 tuba alumni performing on stage simultaneously. From these, a select twenty-piece
ensemble would record and première nine major new tuba works commissioned by
Winston Morris from such world-class composers as Adam Gorb (UK) and Gunther
Schuller, America's most significant living composer.
The viewer takes first chair as some of the world's top horn players record under the precise directions of Gorb and Schuller, literally breathing life into pieces penned especially for tuba.
The public sometimes views the tuba as simplistic, unsexy – ridiculous even.
But in the correct hands, it is as fast and agile as any horn in the brass section.
With a 4 octave range - greater than any other horn - the registers in which
these tubists excel and their dexterity are truly remarkable.
TUBA U: Basso Profundo plumbs the tuba's past, it being the biggest but the youngest
of modern symphonic instruments. We follow the dynasty of tuba pioneers who
founded the horn's rightful place in the pantheon of brass - from Bill Bell
(tubist for Toscanini & John Phillip Sousa), to Bell's student Harvey Phillips,
to his protégé, Winston Morris.
Narrowing our horizons, we surgically scope one of Mr. Morris's tubas, observing
fluttering valves at work. We visit the Miraphone tuba factory in Waldkraiburg,
Germany. From hammers and anvils to liquid nitrogen tube benders, we witness
the fascinating art of building beautiful brass tubas, where we find more of
For instance, a German hunting license applicant is tested as much for his accuracy
with a rifle as his ability to play a traditional hunting horn!
Finally, we load the tubas and board the bus en route to New York's famed Carnegie
Hall, sharing the All Stars' awe and inspiration at the prospect of performing
at one of America's most renowned musical performance halls.
The highlight of the recital is Perpetuum Mobile
, the 4th movement of Gunther Schuller's Refrains. Driving and complex, with twenty-two unduplicated scores for twenty-two horns, the piece has been hailed by critics as a “cutting edge… landmark work.”
Following this television première of a truly important new-to-the-world classical
work, the program closes with comments on Winston Morris's legacy from biographers
and from Gunther Schuller, Harvey Phillips, Adam Gorb and others.
This is an anatomy of one instrument that speaks to the dedication and discipline
shared by players of all instruments. The program speaks to the value of the
individual within the context of the ensemble and assures us that some unexpected
and unusual things are indeed worthy of a lifetime of commitment. TUBA U: Basso
dispels assumptions of size, value and ability, addressing prejudice
- even if a very quirky one.
This combination of top players, classic compositions and a première concert
location offers a unique educational opportunity, capturing the essence of
an underestimated instrument through the spirit and dedication of its devoted