A Tribute to Harvey


The recent passing of Harvey Phillips has left a void in the world of brass playing. As the weeks pass, I am sure the accolades from his colleagues and former students will be posted to further document his contribution to the world of brass playing. Long recognized as the “Paganini” of tuba and recently in the New York Times obituary tribute as the “Titan” of tuba, Harvey left a mark on the music world that will never be erased.
Prior to the 2004 Brass Chamber Music Forum I had never met Harvey or had a conversation with him. I felt it was appropriate to celebrate the 50th year of the New York Brass Quintet (founded in 1954) and had talked with trumpeter Robert Nagel (founder of the NYBQ) about having such an event. With Bob’s advice and blessing I began planning this event in early 2003. To me, this was a monumental milestone in brass chamber music, very similar to the recent American Brass Quintet 50th anniversary celebration. Rising out of an interest in chamber music in the post World War II years at the Juilliard School, the New York Brass Ensemble began playing early music that had been composed primarily for cornetts and sackbuts and gradually melded into an ensemble of 2 trumpets, horn, trombone and tuba that gave its premiere at the New York Town Hall in 1954 and became known as the first professional brass quintet–the New York Brass Quintet. Except for a few modern compositions such as the “Sonatine” by Eugene Bozza, the “Quintet” by Robert Sanders, and a composition by Ingolf Dahl (originally intended for a larger brass ensemble) the NYBQ had to become quite creative in order to present full recital programs and get the attention of artist managers and concert audiences. The end result of this creative spark, nearly sixty years later, has produced an original brass quintet repertoire of well over 1500 works for brass quintet by more than 1100 composers (for documentation see the database at americanbrassquintet.org).
Harvey was always an eloquent advocate for the tuba, for first-rate music education, and for creating new solo and brass chamber music repertoire. His successor in the NYBQ, Toby Hanks, propelled tuba performance and brass chamber music repertoire possibilities to new heights. Other tubists have gained reputations as soloists and chamber musicians including Roger Bobo, James Self, and Oystein Baadvik. I have always been the kind of guy to go to tuba, double bass, and bassoon recitals even when they were not so popular, but now the fact that these instruments are popular as solo instruments stems from the kind of energy and enthusiasm that Harvey brought to the music world by championing his instrument.
Once Harvey was brought into the planning of the 2004 Brass Chamber Music Forum, my “to do” list started getting much longer with each phone call and e-mail. Like me, he wanted the whole world to recognize this remarkable musical milestone. Naively, I thought that once I announced the event would be held at Podunk University the whole musical world would notice and come flocking in. The members of the New York Brass Quintet and American Brass Quintet had always been my musical idols and I certainly assumed that all brass players felt the same. I guess Harvey knew better because he really encouraged me to develop the public relations part of the event and we managed to get articles and announcements in the “Instrumentalist,” “Chamber Music,” and a number of national news sources. We secured letters of endorsement/tribute from the governor of North Carolina, Gerard Schwarz, Eric Ewazen and other prominent musicians. Harvey made collector’s buttons for all of the participants, issued an historic NYBQ recording, and contributed money from his foundation to help fund the project. Harvey also made suggestions along the way to make sure that we were including people in the music school in the event.

After the event was approved by the university, an independent on-campus funding agency used their whole annual budget to fund proposals to get the seed money needed for the event. Another non-music school entity agreed to hire the American Brass Quintet for a 3-day residency to perform a concert on their series. Other proposals were funded by the Southern Arts Federation and the ACMP Chamber Music Network. Todd Stanton (ABQ manager) had a proposal funded by the NEA to help offset the expense of the ABQ residency. Things seemed to be going well. Then the university changed the weekend of the annual Homecoming game to coincide with our event, creating parking nightmares. To further complicate matters, the music school (referred to henceforth as “Podunk U.” to protect the competent), dean, assistant dean, and wind ensemble director at Podunk U. seemed to think the event was not worth promoting to the university, to the local community, or to the music students. It seemed to them like an obnoxious interference in the day to day job of training band directors, rather than an educational bonus. I had lined up the American Brass Quintet to play “Shadowcatcher” with the wind ensemble, Frank Battisti to conduct, and the composer, Eric Ewazen, to be on hand to assist with the performance of the composition. The wind ensemble director (now retired) decided he wanted no part of this (even with him conducting and Frank watching) so we ditched this effort as part of the event. Frank Battisti, Eric Ewazen and the ABQ still showed up and the ABQ sweated through a rather mediocre composition for brass quintet at my request to try to create a sense of community and teamwork in the event for the music school.
On the other hand, the brass faculty worked their butts off to help create an event that is still memorable to all that attended. The music faculty presented perhaps the longest Eric Ewazen concert in history that included the flute sonata, trombone sonata, horn sonata, trumpet ensemble works, works for trombone and trumpet, and more. Master classes, discussion forums, and individual interviews with key members of the NYBQ were videotaped for posterity (and have been utilized by brass DMA students at other music schools for projects since). Student and professional quintets performed new works for quintet and 43 composers submitted brass quintets for review and performance at the event. In addition to the ABQ, the Bay Street Brassworks, a military band quintet, several amateur quintets, and a number of student quintets from other music schools came to perform and/or for coaching. Gunther Schuller stopped in to sit on a panel and conduct a work on a concert (thanks to Harvey’s invitation).The only tuba students from Podunk U. that may have met Harvey Phillips were the tubists that happened to play in the five quintets that our brass faculty had prepared to perform on the event. (One was a bass bone group so we are looking at four tubists at the most). The rest of the tuba students from Podunk U. did not attend or meet Dr. Phillips.

Further to my embarrassment was the fact that our facility, even though fairly new, was not very accommodating to the disabled. Harvey could only get around in a wheel chair and it took quite a bit of maneuvering to find him a parking place, get him into the music building and into the right hall/room for master classes and performances. He never complained. He was so excited to be there.

For me, the highlight of the festival was when the ABQ and members of the NYBQ played a two-choir Gabrieli piece to end the ABQ concert. John Swallow had to leave the event early because of a family emergency so my good friend and trombonist Harold McKinney filled in for him and Martin Hughes, trombonist and long time member of the Annapolis Brass Quintet, played bass trombone to fill out the NYBQ group that included Bob Nagel, Allan Dean, and Paul Ingraham. Harvey did complain about this programming because the grand finale had failed to include a tuba. (Whoops!).

Harvey had the kind of energy that the rest of us can feed off of if we were lucky enough to meet him and know him. A number of times over the past couple of years I have picked up my phone and started to call him, then stopped because I could only envision my “to do” list as getting longer from the experience. This is to my discredit. I love his energy and hope to have it someday!!

Everything about Harvey was big. He was a big guy, he played a big instrument, and he went about everything in a big way. I suspect if I have the chance to visit the field in Bloomington where he is now laid to rest, he would have the biggest headstone. This would only be fitting.