‘You Will Be Hearing From Him’ (1989)

By Richard Dyer, Globe Staff
The Boston Globe, page 77, August 31st, 1989
LENOX — Timothy Morrison has returned from Hollywood, where he made his first movie, “Born on the Fourth of July.”
You won’t see Morrison in the new Oliver Stone film starring Tom Cruise when it’s released next Christmas, but you’ll hear him. John Williams composed the score for the story of Ron Kovic, the quadriplegic Vietnam veteran who has become a powerful spokesman for veterans’ rights; Kovic himself makes a brief appearance in the film. As he watched a rough cut of the film last February, Williams’ ear heard music for trumpet and strings, and the trumpeter he heard in the still-unwritten music was Morrison, the principal trumpet of the Boston Pops and associate principal trumpet of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
“It is an important, painful, serious and vivid film,” Williams said one afternoon at Tanglewood last week.
”I knew immediately I would want a string orchestra to sing in opposition to all the realism on the screen, and then the idea came to have a solo trumpet — not a military trumpet, but an American trumpet, to recall the happy youth of this boy. And I knew I wanted Tim — he has an American sound and his playing is very touching, very beautiful. There is real serenity in his playing; Tim’s a thoughtful guy.”
Morrison, 33, is unusual because he has had two different careers in the Boston Symphony. He first joined the orchestra in 1980, left in 1984 and spent two seasons touring with the Empire Brass before rejoining the orchestra in a more prominent position a year ago.
The soft-spoken Morrison is tall, good-looking and built like an athlete, which is what he wanted to be when he was growing up in Portland, Ore. He played drums a little and trumpet in the school band. “But basically I was interested in sports — basketball, football, baseball, and I went out for track. But I realized that I had more natural talent as a musician than I would ever have as an athlete, so I got serious about the trumpet when I was a junior in high school.”
Morrison’s teacher was the principal trumpet in the Oregon Symphony, Fred Sauter, who was a friend of Gunther Schuller, who was then president of the New England Conservatory. On his teacher’s recommendation, Morrison won a scholarship and came to Boston to study with Roger Voisin and Armando Ghitalla, two first trumpeters of the Boston Symphony. In 1977 he was a student at the Tanglewood Music Center. “At the Conservatory and at Tanglewood was where I first learned about orchestras. I hadn’t gone the traditional route and never played solo cornet. I had no orchestral experience when I came here, so I had to open my eyes. The caliber of performance was very high. I still remember the Stravinsky ‘Rite of Spring’ we played at Tanglewood for Seiji Ozawa and the Bruckner Fourth with Klaus Tennstedt and the performances of Schoenberg’s ‘Gurrelieder’ and Berg’s ‘Wozzeck’ at the New England Conservatory.”
From the conservatory Morrison went into the State Symphony of Mexico in Toluca, where he spent a year. “The altitude was hard to adjust to at first. I remember trying to go jogging the first day I was there, and it was a lung- aching experience.”
He left Toluca to come to the Boston Symphony as fourth trumpet, though he found himself playing second fairly often during those volatile years of the section. After four years, however, Morrison left. “I felt I didn’t want to be fourth trumpet forever, and I wanted to try something different and strike out on my own.” He went to Los Angeles intending to pursue the free-lance life, but wound up with a number of former BSO colleagues in the Empire Brass.
“That was the best thing I ever did,” Morrison recalls. “It made me a better player. Partly it was performing so constantly — in those seasons we often played more than 100 concerts a year. Also in a group that size everyone is basically a soloist, so you learn how to survive. On the other hand, I quickly discovered that life on the road was not for me.”
So when the position of assistant principal trumpet of the BSO and principal trumpet of the Pops opened up, Morrison returned. “I am now in a more exposed position and carry more responsibility. I spent several years in a supporting capacity to some great players, and now I am stretching my own wings. I knew I had it in myself to be a principal trumpet, but until recently I wasn’t in a situation where I was able to develop this ability in myself.”
In addition to his responsibilities at the BSO and the Pops, Morrison teaches eight to 10 students a year at the New England Conservatory. “I try to help them on the technical level, but more than that I try to teach them to express themselves through the instrument. I also try to teach them the theatrical elements in their playing, to project beyond the orchestra and out to the audience — to make music, in short. I’m not sure where I learned this myself; I’m a late bloomer in a way. It took me a while to get in touch with my own feelings and to make connections through them to the music and to the audience.”
Morrison thinks a good trumpet sound is a warm sound. “I look for ease in production, a free sound, a sound that is capable of different colors. I also like a good-sized sound, not overblown, but with a lyrical, singing quality. Of course the trumpet must be able to sound nasty when you need it to, but the nastiness should never get out of control.”
Lately Morrison has been returning to his first musical interest; he’s been taking drum lessons. “I just want to be proficient enough to have fun with it — I like to play a lot of different kinds of music, jazz and rock-funk. I identify rhythmically with music; to me that is the most important aspect of it.”
Morrison feels he has “come full circle” several times in his life, and it happened again when he returned to Los Angeles to play in the film soundtrack. “The studio musicians in LA have a varied life — they go from the studio to play a concert or a jazz gig. I like to see myself as that kind of musician. John has written a very interesting score — it’s a very dramatic, serious side of John’s music, a side I hadn’t really seen before. I like John’s writing for the trumpet very much; it’s very lyric and very melodious. I can’t tell you much about the movie because I only saw the 40 minutes or so that I’m in. Even then, I didn’t see very much because I had things to do — I couldn’t be looking around too much. They showed a black- and-white copy of the scenes with music, and the music starts and stops. You have to stay very flexible within a very strict time frame; you have to let the music breathe. I did think it was a very interesting picture to watch; Oliver Stone is an artist working with film and there is a great eye behind the camera.”
Williams says, “I think some sequences in the film are as good as anything I have ever seen. Tom Cruise has matured remarkably and he is brilliant in it. But I know people are going to find it difficult to watch some of this film, and whether the American public is ready to embrace something so strong, I don’t know. But it is an important film and to my mind the best of the Vietnam films. And Tim Morrison soars in it from the beginning right through. His playing has that special glow.”