USA 2020 Part 4 (by Huw Morgan)

“I left my pants at your hotel” is not usually the first sentence I utter on a typical Wednesday morning, but those were indeed my words as I attempted to track down a much-loved pair of navy travel chinos that I’d forgotten in Clemson the previous week. ‘Pants’ in America are of course what we Brits refer to as trousers, and I had assumed that being reunited with my garment later in the tour would be a mere formality – after all, who would want to pinch a pair of well-worn gent’s slacks? As it turned out, the allure of a tailored pair of Charles Tyrwhitt’s finest must have proved too much for one of the housekeepers, since they had mysteriously ‘disappeared’…

More than a little disconcerted by this unanticipated turn of events, the only way to bolster spirits was to head for a re-energising morning workout. As has become customary during this trip, several other members had the same idea: while Alan, Pete and I pumped iron and hit the cross-trainer, our tenor trombonists decided to do their best Wim Hof impression – braving brutally cold conditions in the outdoor pool!

Our favourite haunt on the I35

Workout done, we replenished our calories by following official Texan protocol and heading to a BBQ joint. Dan navigated to his old haunt in Denton – Rudy’s – which served us so spectacularly well on our first visit to the Lone Star State two years ago. While the rest of us tucked into moist brisket, ribs, and turkey, Matt Gee stuck fastidiously to his vegetarian diet. I honestly tried my best, dear reader, to make his baked potato, corn-on-the-cob, and three-bean salad sound remotely appetising – but alas no such adjectives exist in the English language…

Matt Gee’s vegan barbecue

With Alan at the wheel of our trusty Ford saloon (this post will scrupulously ignore those who journeyed ‘first class’ in the Chevy!) we hit the highway for the trip to Oklahoma City University, accompanied by a selection of Radio 4 podcasts. This included a rather depressing episode about mortality, so we were rather relieved to arrive at our lodgings for the evening, a chic 21C Museum hotel which doubles as a contemporary art gallery. 

The art gallery in the midst of our hotel

After a swift check-in it was off to the Wanda L. Bass School of Music, where we met our gregarious host, Michael Anderson. An appreciative audience greeted our performance of ‘Borrowed Baroque’, and it was especially pleasing to meet many students who had travelled from all over the state to attend our performance. 

Huw in masterclass action

The following morning we returned to the OKCU campus for two chamber music classes. Dan and I teamed up in one venue, where we were treated to Ewazen and Bach, while the artistic directors coached brass quintets in the main hall. We were unanimously impressed by the quality of the performances, and the responsiveness of the students to our ideas.

The iconic Route 66

No sooner had we finished our sessions we were straight on the road to the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. The question of where to eat lunch en route is always of paramount importance, and occasionally we encounter diners or restaurants of variable quality. This time, however, Michael Anderson (a knowledgeable gastronome) had recommended Burn Co., a(nother!) BBQ joint located just off Route 66 in Tulsa. This proved to be a culinary highlight of the tour, so much so that I even bought an overpriced cap as a souvenir!

Tucking into a second barbecue in as many days

As the designated front-seat DJ, I was responsible for coordinating the soundtrack to our ride along Route 412.

Huw’s unique sartorial style

After an array of somewhat cheesy 80s hits and dubious Country music, Dan (a man of impeccably trendy musical tastes), suggested we delve into the intriguing oeuvre of Vulfpeck, The War on Drugs, and Cory Wong… Having little interest in contemporary popular culture, Matt Knight elected to choose his own music, donning noise-cancelling headphones in the luxurious splendour of the ‘hole’ (for the uninitiated, that’s the rear offside seat). As he dozed, speculation mounted as to his choice of soothing lullaby: was it Hubert Parry or Maddalena Casulana?!

It often seems like our journeys across the Bible Belt are an endless succession of wide open prairies, roadside cafés and billboards, occasionally punctuated by an American flag fluttering in the breeze. But as we crossed the border from Oklahoma to Arkansas, the scenery gradually morphed into something altogether more beautiful: the Ozark National Forest. Having wound our way through the woodland we approached Fayetteville, where one gargantuan building dominated the horizon: Donald W. Reynolds Stadium, the 76,000-capacity home of the university’s football team, the Razorbacks.

The spectacular hall at the University of Arkansas

Richard Rulli, the trumpet professor at the UofA, has been a tremendous supporter or the group for many years, so it was a real pleasure to reconnect with him and his talented students on this visit. Alan, Pete, and Matt Gee each led studio masterclasses before our evening performance in the Faulkner Performing Arts Center, a purpose-built venue with acoustics that truly allow the sound of the brass septet to blossom. 

Programmes signed, CDs sold, and photographs taken, we headed to the post-concert debrief in a nearby hostelry. After one or two local IPAs we drifted home, mindful of a 6am start the following morning and a trip to San Antonio, where we’ll appear at the 100th anniversary conference of the Texas Music Educator’s Association. 

Tour stats:

Concerts: 7

Distance travelled: 6623 miles

Time on the bus: 23 hrs 0 mins

States driven through: 7