Tennessee Tech Tuba Ensemble to be featured in national PBS documentary

It’s the most recorded group of its kind in history and has presented multiple concerts at New York’s famed Carnegie Hall. Now, the Tennessee Tech Tuba Ensemble, along with founder and director R. Winston Morris, will be featured on the small screen in a national PBS documentary.

Written and directed by Emmy-winner Todd Jarrell and presented by Cookeville’s local PBS television station, WCTE-TV, Tuba U: Basso Profundo will have a public premiere showing at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, April 20, in the Wattenbarger Auditorium of TTU’s Bryan Fine Arts Building.

“The documentary delivers the history, physicality and personalities of the humble tuba — an amazing, if unheralded, horn,” Jarrell said. “Tubas are [commonly] viewed as simplistic, un-sexy — ridiculous even. But with an octave range greater than any other horn, the dexterity with which these tubists excel is remarkable.”

Tuba U: Basso Profundo follows the history of the tuba from Bill Bell, tubist for John Philip Sousa, to Bell’s student Harvey Phillips, to his protégé Morris. It explores what Jarrell calls Morris’ “curious tuba tribe” — the TTTE student tuba and euphonium ensemble Morris founded at the university more than 40 years ago and still directs today.

By founding and energetically promoting the TTTE, one of the first groups of its kind in history, Jarrell said, “Morris is responsible for more music being written for the instrument than anyone — ever.”

The half-hour documentary surgically scopes the inside of a tuba, takes viewers to a German tuba factory and follows Morris and the TTTE into the recording studio, across the country and at the group’s 40th anniversary performance at Carnegie Hall.

It closes with the performance of a piece the TTTE commissioned from Gunther Schuller, America’s most significant living composer. Titled Refrains, it has been hailed by critics as a “cutting edge…landmark work.”

The documentary will be satellite-fed on the PBS National Program Service in the same program slot — 9:30 Central Standard Time on Sunday, April 26 — to approximately 300 PBS member stations across the country.

While the documentary is not designated as a “must carry” show, many stations across the country will air it in that time slot. For information about the program on individual stations, check local PBS television listings in your area.

Tuba U: Basso Profundo was made possible by grants from Premier Diagnostic Imaging and Baron USA, both of Cookeville, and by the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee, the Tennessee Arts Commission, the Clark Charitable Trust, Carl and Judy Sandlin and the ExxonMobil Foundation.

“The program assures us that some unusual things are worthy of a lifetime of commitment, dispelling assumptions of size, value and ability and addressing prejudice — even if a very quirky one,” Jarrell said.

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