Fans come to 42nd William Bell Memorial Tuba and Euphonium Day

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Drake University Assistant Director of Bands Assistant Director of Low Brass Dr. Vince Kenney, center, was joined by tubists from the 42nd annual William Bell Memorial Tuba and Euphonium Day Saturday at the grave of Bell in Violet Hill Cemetery. Photo courtesy David Ancelet


Drake University Assistant Director of Bands Assistant Director of Low Brass Dr. Vince Kenney conducted the 42nd annual William Bell Memorial Tuba and Euphonium Day Saturday at the First United Methodist Church in Perry. Photo courtesy Ray Harden

Saturday’s annual William Bell Memorial Tuba and Euphonium Day clinic and concert at the First United Methodist Church celebrated the life of Perry’s most famous tubist and offered a dozen players a chance to perform in a large tuba and euphonium choir under the direction of Dr. Vince Kenney, assistant director of Bands and assistant director of Low Brass at Drake University.

A 1 p.m. rehearsal was followed by a clinic/masterclass at 3 p.m. and a public concert at 4 p.m., conducted by Kenney. A grateful audience of about 30 — one from as far away as Minneapolis — attended the concert, which included several numbers, including “Blues for Bill,” deftly introduced and explained by Gary McCurdy.

Capping the afternoon-long celebration was a brief memorial performance at William Bell’s grave in Violet Hill Cemetery. Bell was born in Creston in 1902 and at the age of 10 began playing tuba in a boys band in Fairfield. He was soon touring in professional bands prior to attending the University of North Dakota on a full music scholarship at the age of 15.

By 18 Bell was hired by the famed bandsman John Phillip Sousa as principal tuba. He was principal tuba of the Cincinnati Symphony from 1923 to 1937, when the famed director Arturo Toscanini selected Bell to be the principal tuba in the newly formed NBC Symphony Orchestra. In 1943, Bell accepted an He was invited to become the principal tuba with the New York Philharmonic.

He turned his talents to teaching when he accepted a position in 1961 at Indiana University, where he became widely known for his teaching ability and for publishing teaching material that came to be widely used in teaching elementary, middle and high school students. Bell’s method books are still widely used today.

Shortly after his retirement from Indiana University in 1971, Bell fell ill during a visit to Iowa in 1971 and was brought to Perry, where his sister, Mrs. Ruth Rankin, lived. He Bell spent the last months of his life in Perry, passing away Aug. 7, 1971.

The William Bell Memorial Tuba Day was founded in 1977 by Harvey Phillips, a student of Bell who would become a famed tuba teacher and performer in his own right. The gathering of tuba and euphonium players has largely remained an annual event in Perry since then, held annually on the first Saturday in November.

Following the performances, the players gathered to dine and socialize at the Hotel Pattee, where several were excited to tour the William Bell Room and see the pictures and the Bell tuba that the hotel displays in the room. Planning for next year’s event was also begin.

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