I once asked Mr. Harris, "Why did you write this book only for trumpet, and not for euphonium?" He replied, "Because it is too costly to engrave a separate set of plates. Besides, if there is a euphoniumist dedicated enough to stick with me, he'll have to learn all the Clefs anyway." Naturally, there is a much better market for trumpet books than for euphonium books. I remember tearing the cover off my copy of the Harris Trumpet Method and replacing it with my own cover that that read "Euphonium Method in Phony Clef".
The level of proficiency on this instrument has fallen considerably. Why? Because both teachers and composers are losing the knowledge and concept of the euphonium. There are only a handful of true Euphoniumists today with an accurate concept of the instrument.
The Harris concept was a sound as large as a tuba, a flexible four and a half octave range, and facility in all keys ... not just B-flat. As an example, the Harris oriented section in the Marine Band uses large "bass trombone" mouthpieces, creating a lush, warm sonority throughout the band.
Mr. Harris did not hold on to any students who studied with him merely because they could brag about studying under him. All of his students had to acquire a discipline to produce & or find another teacher.
There were two 'feelings 'that most of Aaron Harris' students shared sympathetically at the conclusion of a lesson: accomplishment (total perfection) or complete disaster. The beginning of each lesson commenced with the famous Harris long tone ritual and technical studies. Any student who had developed the skill of sustaining a note longer than a minute was rewarded with a handshake. A reflection of Aaron Harris' lifestyle and professionalism was his impersonal, serious, and no nonsense sobriety during lessons. He was always "Mr. Harris" rather than "Aaron." One time, and only one time, I came for my lesson unprepared. That one particular week I had not practiced very much. After our usual ritual warm up session, I attempted my assigned etude, and walked all over it. I found myself being escorted out of Mr. Harris' studio precisely fifteen minutes after I had first stepped in. I can still remember how awful I felt. All my ego and confidence were now replaced by feelings of complete disaster. Yet his masterful teaching principles made me return, fired up with even more determination never to allow this to happen again.
Mr. Harris possessed the rare talent of reducing the self created primadonna and then molding his product into an outstanding musician. One of his superb qualities as a great teacher was that of combining his formal manner with giving the pupil the feeling of being his best friend by way of his constant encouragement and the confidence he instilled.
The Aaron Harris Advanced Trumpet Studies is a unique book which stands apart from the average brass book because it was designed specifically for the more dedicated instrumentalist. Both the advanced student and the virtuoso find challenge from the first page. These etudes have been conceived and arranged in every possible style used within the nature of the designed etude. They also include every conceivable form of the major and minor scales.
Mr. Harris glowingly related to me many inspiring stories of his favorite students and of brass celebrities who adopted his advanced trumpet studies with great success. One time he got so excited over the progress Charles Colin had made that he made Charles review the entire book while it was still in manuscript for proofreading and to transpose it into many different keys. The original keys were difficult enough!
Mr. Harris was a tremendous euphoniumist, performing with the great musical organizations such as the Sousa, Conway and the Pryor bands and the Metropolitan Opera. His greatest moments came when he performed with his teacher, Simone Mantia.
I shall never forget Aaron Harris' influence on my current performing responsibilities. I can actually feel his presence. Our last conversation was a warm father and son relationship. He was very proud of his students and was very happy for my progress, voicing his desire to be with me in the Marine Band so that he could do it all over again. We communicated often after I took over the euphonium section of the Marine Band. And I received much valuable advice on how to run the section.
My ambition now is to pass on this rare, God given spirit and invaluable knowledge and to rejuvenate the almost lost art of virtuoso euphonium playing in the artistic manner laid down by Aaron Harris.
Dr. Lucas A. Spiros
(adapted from an earlier article in the New York Brass Conference for Scholarships Journal, 1977, with permission)
NOTE: this article is reprinted from Euphonia magazine, September, 1977, with permission of the publisher, Glenn Call.
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