Blog Entry - Musical inspiration from Dr. Watson Morrison

A marvelous musician and giant of a human being departed the planet on August 10, 2018. Dr. Watson Morrison, one of my much loved professors during my undergrad years at the Hartt School of Music, has completed his incredible 89 years here on earth. He was not only a wonderful musician but the very model of kindness and always thinking the best of other people. He will be very much missed.

The details found in his public resume are most impressive, and in his private life he was the essence of compassion, spirituality, and gentility. He was a staunch and powerful academic, with Bachelor's and Master's level degrees from the New England Conservatory of Music, and a DMA (Doctor of Musical Arts) degree from Boston University. He began teaching at Hartt in 1955 and remained on the faculty in various capacity for over 60 years while performing over 100 recitals. He was still teaching to the time of his passing, he was a consummate piano pedagogue and gave all of himself at all times to his students.

 
 

During my freshman year at Hartt, I was placed into a master teacher's studio who was able to hand-pick his students from their auditions. While others thrived with this particular teacher, it wasn't a good fit for the two of us. I became extremely anxious and dreaded my piano lessons as we butted heads over issues of training in additional areas than straight classical playing. I was very interested in jazz, chamber music, and new compositions in addition to my classical studies. But the teacher referred to this a "cop out" and we didn't communicate well. The anxiety led to clenching and tendonitis in my left arm, as well as even a general distaste for continuing in the musical training that I'd loved up to that point.

 

It was a very low point, and I actually considered leaving the field of music entirely by the end of my freshman academic year. But Dr. Morrison's studio had been located next to my teacher's studio, and I'd seen him working with his students all year while i was waiting for my own lessons. He was a quiet, gentle, and compassionate man, and I desperately needed someone to lean on at the time to help me regain my love of music. So I tentatively approached him to see if he'd take me on as a student. I was delighted when he agreed. The next two years were balm for my soul and restored my interest and love in the field of music.

I performed my first college solo recital under his coaching during my sophomore year, and he also coached the first of the "Summa Radio City Orchestra" concerts during my junior year. He was infinitely kind and gentle and always had a positive outlook on life, no matter what problems may have occurred on any given day. Even when his much loved wife was being treated for cancer, he somehow kept a positive outlook and managed to carry a full teaching load while caring for each and every student. He was a wonderful musician and extraordinary teacher, and underneath the gentle demeanor lived the soul of a perfectionist. He expected the most out of himself at all times, and performed a new solo recital each year to provide inspiration for his studio and colleagues. He also expected the most from his studio and would not tolerate any less than full effort from students.

I had to leave his studio after 2 years when the tendonitis in my left arm had become debilitating, and I switched to the studio of Luiz de Moura Castro, who was versed in the Taubman techniqes. Fortunately, the amazing work with Luiz healed my tendonitis and I continued on my pathway of concertizing. But I always kept in touch with Dr. Morrison and went to him for help on various issues as I completed my undergraduate degree.

We lost touch for a couple of years following graduation. During that time I found myself in a personal crisis that had me turning to my music for comfort when a relationship failed. And it was at that point that the realization of Dr. Morrison's contribution to my life really hit home. My music helped me through a crisis, and I wouldn't have had that without him.

I got back in touch with him at that point to let him know how much he'd contributed to my life, and from that moment on we kept in touch as colleagues. I would travel to Hartford once every year or two and it was always a priority to get together him and have breakfast at his favorite diner restaurant in East Hartford. It was a place he frequented where he knew all the waiters and waitresses; he took great delight in showing me off as his former student! I was extremely touched with his candid conversations about his life and his feelings about music once the conversation opened up as colleagues. He was so very humble and actually thought little of himself while constantly being supportive of everyone around him. I think it was always hard for him to have started playing the piano so late in life...he played trumpet until age 18 and it wasn't until that age that he fell in love with the piano and focused all his attention there. He was at a muscular disadvantage starting an instrument after his muscles were already fully developed, but he overcame his late start at the piano with sheer determination and talent, practicing and practicing all the time to always be better. Even in his later years, he would always strive for constantly becoming better. If his body had allowed it, he would have been performing to the end. As it was, he was teaching to the end. Thousands of students were touched by this man being their teacher.

I was extremely honored to have been chosen as Hartt's Alumni of the Year in 2017. The first people I invited to the ceremony were Dr. Morrison and Luiz Castro; thankfully they were both able to be there. My teachers contributed so much to who I have become, and I simply had to acknowledge them during the graduation ceremony. Dr. Morrison was so thrilled to have been a part of the event. It was actually the last time I saw him, although we kept in touch writing letters during 2018. He was always so curious about what I was doing and so supportive of where I wanted the efforts to go in the field of music in healthcare, truly one of my most supportive friends. He will surely be missed, but I will forever carry his wisdom and experience with me in my future work.

To view a YouTube video of Dr. Morrison's teaching work, click on the link to the video under the first paragraph of this blog entry entitled "Taking Care of the Children" or click HERE.