At Winston Morris’ little house in the woods, even the vermin are musical.
To hear him tell it, he’s been awakened at various times of the night by mice and frogs playing tiny tubas.
They don’t play anymore, but three note worthy frogs and one mouse have been immortalized with their tiny instruments: the mouse sits on the mantel under a tiny glass dome, and the frogs stand on a shelf, surrounded by thousands of lead, ceramic, glass and other figurines, each holding a tuba.
They are part of a collection Morris, Tech tuba professor for nearly 50 years, has spent decades collecting. It’s a collection that represents the relationships Morris has spent years building with his students.
In the early 1970s, Steve Smelcer, ’79 music education, handed Morris a small lead figurine of a soldier playing a tuba.That figurine prompted Morris to, as he puts it, “go ballistic.” Nearly half a century later, a group of former students is leading the effort to transfer more than 2,000 figurines and pieces of art featuring the instrument to Tech.
“The collection represents history and the variety of the instruments and how they have changed over time,” said Charles McAdams, ’80 music education, who started collecting tuba figurines at around the same time and owns about 300. “It also demonstrates very clearly the passion and drive that Winston has to be the absolute best at anything he attempts. Having a good collection, that’s not Winston. Having the world’s best collection is Winston.”
Originally, Morris planned to sell the collection, which is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records. A large group of Morris’more than 300 former students, including McAdams, suggested Morris instead donate his collection to their alma mater.
A group of them banded together to raise money to display and maintain it. They are already more than halfway to their goal.
In the next few years, the collection will find a home where Morris has spent so much of his time playing, teaching and, above all, mentoring his students in the Tennessee Tech Tuba Ensemble.
“For me, this represents a lifetime of hard work, training students and throwing your all into a program,” said Chuck Cagle, ’78 political science, ’80 M.A. “This donation is a good way to honor that.”
Cagle, a lawyer with Nashville’s Lewis Thomason firm, was one of Morris’ tuba players and helped write the donor contract between Morris and the university. He still periodically plays, though he is no longer an active performer.
The donation is a proper tribute, his students say, to a man who has cared enough about them to help them become the best tuba players they could be and one who has stayed in touch with them through the years.
“Winston has been in my corner helping me with letters of recommendation and support with every job I’ve applied for, up through this one,” said McAdams, now provost and vice president for academic affairs at Mississippi’s Delta State University. “But it’s not just me. I’m not a favored son. He does this for everyone.He makes everybody feel special. That is one of his gifts. When you feel not only that you’ve learned something but you also feel better about yourself or your situation just because you’ve talked to him; it means something special.”
Morris is a master of email and has stayed in touch with his former students, many of whom were never music majors.
“He’s interested in what we’re doing, but also,to keep us up to date on what the ensemble is doing. He’s never stopped in all this time,” said Cagle, who has a few tuba figurines but prefers to collect ceramic coffee mugs. “The friendships that resulted from playing that instrument are almost indescribable. They are very close.”
Plans are not yet finalized regarding where Morris’ more than 2,000 figurines and artwork will go, but they will be on display as a permanent reminder of his dedication to the Golden Eagles.