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IU Jacobs School of Music

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IU Jacobs School of Music

Last modified: Thursday, November 29, 2007

Harvey Phillips, the "Paganini of the tuba," honored by Classical Music Hall of Fame

Nov. 29, 2007

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Harvey Phillips, tuba virtuoso and distinguished professor emeritus at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, has added another honor to one of the most remarkable careers in modern American musical history. He has become the first brass player chosen for induction into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame, a ceremony that will take place on June 28, 2008.

Other 2007 inductees to the Cincinnati, Ohio-based Hall of Fame were Yo-Yo Ma, Donald Martino and the Cleveland Orchestra. The time and location for the induction ceremony have not yet been announced.

Harvey Phillips

Harvey Phillips

Print-Quality Photo

"I was knocked out. I hadn't expected anything like that," Phillips said this week. He said he couldn't have dreamed of the career ahead of him when he began playing the sousaphone, the marching-band version of the tuba, as a high school student more than 60 years ago. "I never gave it a second thought," he said. "I just kept putting one foot in front of another and going through life."

Phillips, 77, has been called "the Paganini of the tuba," "a legend among brass players and other instrumentalists" and "unquestionably the best known tuba player in the world, in classical and jazz, or another other music." He also transformed the repertoire for the instrument, commissioning more than 200 works for tuba and inspiring composers to write serious music for solo tuba.

He was the second Jacobs School faculty member to be inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame. Conductor Leonard Slatkin, now the Arthur R. Metz Foundation Conductor at Indiana University, was inducted to the Hall in 2002.

"The news that IU Distinguished Professor Emeritus Harvey Phillips has been chosen as the first brass player to be inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame comes as no surprise," said Gwyn Richards, dean of the Jacobs School of Music. "Harvey is a legendary man of firsts who has, through courage, determination and inspiration, had an indelible impact on the world of tuba playing and brass playing in general. We join the many thousands of brass professionals, students and music lovers around the world in congratulating him on his most recent recognition."

"Harvey Phillips changed the way the world sees the tuba and revolutionized the brass idiom," said Daniel Perantoni, who succeeded Phillips as tuba professor at the Jacobs School of Music. "Through his tireless efforts, he is responsible for the vast expansion of the tuba literature and increased awareness of the tuba as a musical instrument. With his induction into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame, Harvey Phillips' achievements rank him among the greatest musicians of the 21st century. He has been an inspiration as mentor and teacher to me throughout my entire career."

Phillips was born Dec. 2, 1929, in rural Missouri and attended school in tiny Marionville. His parents couldn't afford to buy him a musical instrument, but he joined the high school band, playing the school-owned sousaphone. After graduation, Phillips spent nine weeks with the King Brothers Circus Band and one semester at the University of Missouri before being asked to join the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus Band. He left that circus band in 1950 to study at the Juilliard School of Music at the invitation of New York Philharmonic Orchestra tubist William Bell.

Phillips played with numerous ensembles in New York, including the New York City Opera, the New York City Ballet and the RCA Victor and Voice of Firestone orchestras. He co-founded the New York Brass Quintet and Orchestra U.S.A. From 1967 to 1971, he was vice president for financial affairs of the New England Conservatory of Music, headed by his friend Gunther Schuller.

In a December 1975 profile in The New Yorker, Whitney Balliett wrote: "The ongoing elevation of the tuba from the laughingstock of musical instruments to one of its kings is mainly the doing of Harvey Phillips, a tubist and a professor of music at Indiana University, who has spent over half his life in the service of his instrument, which he plays better than anyone else in the world … Many of his colleagues rank him the finest living brass player and, by extension, one of the certified virtuosos of his time."

Phillips accepted an invitation from Dean Wilfred Bain to join the faculty at the Indiana University School of Music in the fall of 1971. He replaced his mentor, William Bell, who had died that August after a decade teaching tuba at IU. "I made the right decision," Phillips said. "I love Indiana University and everything about it. The Jacobs School of Music has had a succession of incredible deans. At this point, I don't think they have any competition for being the greatest school of music in the world."

In 1973, Phillips organized the first Tuba Christmas concert, in which tubists played holiday carols on the skating rink at New York's Rockefeller Center. The event, honoring Bell, who was born on Christmas Day, became a holiday tradition. Phillips also hosted annual Octubafest celebrations at his Tuba Ranch south of Bloomington.

About the American Classical Music Hall of Fame

The American Classical Music Hall of Fame, located in Cincinnati, Ohio, is a nonprofit organization devoted to celebrating the past, present and future of American classical music. It was founded in 1996 by Cincinnati businessman and civic leader David A. Klingshirn. Its first members were inducted in 1998.