Tuba U: Basso Profundo

Tuba U: Basso Profundo premiered April 2009.

Tuba U: Basso Profundo follows an unusual 22-piece musical ensemble into the studio, across the United States, and into renowned Carnegie Hall. Featuring the career of maestro R. Winston Morris, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Gunther Schuller, German tuba makers, and the 100-member Tubas of Mass Destruction, this is the offbeat anatomy of one instrument that speaks to the dedication shared by players of all instruments.

Winston Morris conductingWinston Morris conducting his 100-member "Tubas of Mass Destruction" (Credit: Ty Kernea).
The public often views tubas as simplistic, un-sexy — ridiculous even. But with a 4 1/2-octave range — greater than any other horn — the registers and dexterity with which these tubists excel is truly remarkable. In the correct hands it is as fast and agile as any of the brass family.

The most recorded group of its kind, the Tennessee Tech Tuba Ensemble has for 40 years toured under the direction of R. Winston Morris, The Man for all things tuba, Father of the tuba ensemble — now popular around the world — and personally responsible for more music being written for his instrument than anyone...ever.

 Tuba U: Basso Profundo explores the career of Mr. Morris and his curious tuba tribe. As the highlight of the Ensemble's 40th Anniversary, Morris commissions nine major tuba works from such notable, world-class composers as Britain's Adam Gorb and Gunther Schuller, America's most significant living composer.

Big bellWilliam J. Bell, mentor to R. Winston Morris and all-round tuba god.
The viewer takes first chair as some of the world's top players rehearse under Gorb and Schuller's precise directions, literally breathing life into pieces penned specifically for tuba. The pressure is on with only four days to record a new album in preparation for the command performance. But there is a lot to see en route to Carnegie...

 Tuba U: Basso Profundo plumbs the tuba's past. With legacy photos we follow the dynasty of tubists 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 Mr. Morris' tuba to observe the fluttering valves from the inside. We visit the Miraphone tuba factory in Waldkraiburg, Germany. With its hammers, anvils and liquid nitrogen tube benders we see the fascinating construction of beautiful tubas and find more of the unexpected: a German hunting license tests both marksmanship and ability to play a hunting horn!

Finally, the tubas are loaded and we board the bus en route to New York's famed Carnegie Hall, sharing the All Star's awe at the prospect of performing one of America's most renowned musical venues. The highlight of the recital is Perpetuum Mobile, the 4th movement of Gunther Schuller's Refrains. Complex and driving with 22 unduplicated scores for 22 horns, the piece is hailed by critics as a "cutting edge...landmark work."

 Written and produced by EMMY-winning director Todd Jarrell and presented by WCTE-TV, Tuba U: Basso Profundo is the broad, powerful and positive première of visionary, new-to-the-world musical works showcasing top players in an unmatched concert location.

 A unique educational opportunity, the program assures us that some unusual things are indeed worthy of a lifetime of commitment, dispelling assumptions of size, value and ability and addressing prejudice — even if a very quirky one. Filled with curious "who knew?" moments, Tuba U: Basso Profundo delivers the history, physicality and personalities of the humble tuba — an amazing, if unheralded, horn.

To read about and see more clips from Tuba U: Basso Profundo, log on to the production's Web site at http://www.tubau.org/.

Tuba U: Basso Profundo was written, directed and produced by Todd Jarrell. To see more of Jarrell's public television projects, please visit Tree Safari: A Sculptural Journey and Crank: Darkness on the Edge of Town.

Visit the Web site of presenting station WCTE, Upper Cumberland Public television at http://www.wcte.org/.

For the history, show dates and recordings of the Tennessee Tech Tuba Ensemble please visit http://orgs.tntech.edu/tuba/.

You may access more information, photographs and the history of the Miraphone musical instruments at http://www.miraphone.de/. Click the Web site's English translation button to the left.


Funded by:

Damon Chu
The Clark Charitable Trust Fund
The Community Foundation of Middle Tennesse
Premier Diagnostic
Baron USA Inc.
Tennesse Arts Commission
Exxon Mobil Corporation

Produced by:

Two Six Inc.

© 2009 Todd Jarrell / Two Six, Inc. / WCTE-TV. All Rights Reserved. Text by Todd Jarrell. Winston Morris photo courtesy of Ty Kernea.

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