Dr. Watson Morrison Celebrates 59 Years at The Hartt School Today
The University of Hartford's The Hartt School presents Dr. Watson Morrison, pianist, in concert to celebrate his 85th birthday and 59 years of teaching, today, November 10, 2013, at 3:00 p.m., in Millard Auditorium, University of Hartford, 200 Bloomfield Avenue, West Hartford, CT 06117. There is no admission charge, and a light reception will follow the performance. The program includes works by Schubert and Liszt, and a piece written especially for Morrison by Hartt faculty member David Macbride.
Watson Morrison was born in 1928 in Sumerville, Massachusetts. As a child he had always wanted to play the piano, but a childhood illness left him deaf in one ear at the age of eleven and his family did not own a piano. Despite the obstacles, music was important to the Morrison family and he pursued music through other means. With support from his parents, he learned to play trumpet and became an accomplished jazz musician. Upon graduating from high school he was accepted to the New England Conservatory (NEC) as a trumpet player, but he still had a strong desire to become a concert pianist. By this time his parents had bought a piano for their home and Morrison, now eighteen years old, decided he would not to go to NEC that year but would stay home to learn to play the piano instead. After
two years of practicing for eight hours a day and taking lessons with teachers Alphonse Antonelli and Raymond Coon, he was accepted to NEC as a piano major. "I practiced Hannon until I became dizzy," says Morrison. This kind of achievement is incredibly rare. It is almost unheard of for a pianist with only two years of playing experience to be accepted to a world-class music conservatory like NEC.
Morrison finished his Bachelor of Music degree at NEC with Honors in 1953 and completed his Master of Music degree there in 1955, the same year he won a New England Conservatory Concerto Competition. By way of one of Morrison's fellow students, the story of his late-blossoming piano career reached Alexander Borovsky, concert pianist and professor at Boston University (BU). Borovsky was incredulous, insisting that "no one starts piano at 18" and is then accepted to a conservatory, however, his curiosity was piqued and he invited Morrison to play for him. Morrison played Schubert's Sonata No. 10 in B-flat Major and Borovsky, impressed, expressed that he would like him to join his studio at BU. Morrison completed his Doctor of Musical Arts degree at BU in 1972.
Morrison joined the faculty of The Hartt School in 1955 (prior to his doctoral studies), while it was still a stand-alone music conservatory located on Broad Street, across from what was then Hartford Public High School. It had a student body of about 50 full-time college students and offered only bachelors and masters degrees in music. Morrison recalls that it was an exciting time for the school. It was growing quickly and in 1957 Hartt joined with Hillyer College and the Hartford Art School to form the University of Hartford. Moshe Paranov was Hartt's president at the time and he became a close friend and colleague of Morrison's. "He was a genius," says
Morrison. "He built the whole school and he was like a second father to me."
Throughout Morrison's long tenure at The Hartt School he taught piano and served for many years at as Co-Chair of the Piano Department. After 46 years of teaching he retired from the college faculty in 2001. Morrison holds the title of Professor Emeritus and continues teaching piano lessons through The Hartt School Community Division. When asked about what keeps him actively teaching and performing through his retirement, he recalls the childhood illness that caused his hearing loss. "I came very close to dying and for a long time I was too ill to go to school," Morrison explains. "I had to stay in bed for a long time, but I kept thinking...how precious life is. I felt that I needed to do something that I really wanted to do with my life." From that time on and still today, the thing Dr. Morrison really wants to do is play and teach piano. "I cannot wait to get to work every day. How many people can say that?"
Watson Morrison's annual birthday concerts draw current and former students and colleagues from around the
Greater-Hartford area. His 85th Birthday Concert, on November 10, features "For Watson Morrison" by Hartt faculty member David MacBride, Variations on the Crucifixus Theme from J.S. Bach's B Minor Mass by Liszt, and Sonata No. 10 in B-flat by Schubert (the same piece he performed when he first met Alexander Borovsky). The concert will also highlight the Watson Morrison Scholarship Fund, which grants private lesson tuition awards to pre-college piano students who study at The Hartt School Community Division. Information about how to contribute to the scholarship fund will be available at the concert.