Virtually anyone can benefit from having a mentor. And most well-known, accomplished and successful people can identify people in their lives who acted as mentors.
Harvey Phillips (1929-2010), known as Mr. Tuba or the “Heifetz” of the tuba led a lifelong campaign to move the tuba from ridicule and its reputation as the “orchestral clown” to become a prominent solo instrument. His goal was to make sure “that no great composer is ever again going to live out his life without composing a major work for the tuba.” He worked tirelessly around the world to create a wide- spread appreciation and understanding for his instrument.
Mr. Phillips’ first work as a tuba player occurred when as a teenager he left the University of Missouri to run away with the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus. The band in the circus had the responsibility to play an “alarm” in the case of any accident or problem. The purpose was to alert other circus folk that heard that particular tune to know there was trouble but to not alarm the audience. Often the “alarm” musical piece was a signal to “send in the clowns.”
On a trip to New York, Mr. Phillips met his soon-to-be mentor, William Bell, the tuba player with the New York Philharmonic. Mr. Bell arranged for Mr. Phillips to study with him at the Julliard School of Music. Mr. Phillips often practiced while riding in the back seat of his car. While his wife drove, their children watched the road to warn of approaching potholes. The children would yell, “Daddy, bump!”
To honor his mentor William Bell, Mr. Phillips gathered tuba players for a special holiday concert in Rockefeller Center. This Tuba Christmas spectacular became a tradition and is echoed yearly in places around the USA. Mr. Phillips was regarded as a mentor by tuba players around the world, was the principal tuba player in the Circus Hall of Fame Band, was inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame in the same year as Yo-Yo Ma, and in 1994 was awarded the Association of Concert Bands inaugaral Mentor Ideal Award.
Harvey Phillips died at his home, “Tubaranch,” in Bloomington, Indiana at age 80.