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ASU School of Music grad tours world with Barrage

May 02, 2012

If the music store had had a cello to rent, Taylor Morris might not have spent the last four years touring the globe playing the violin with Barrage, a high-octane fiddling group the Denver Post calls “too wow for words.”

The 25-year-old ASU School of Music graduate has had many star-aligning moments in his young musical career that his mother, Mindy, says began in that Mesa, Ariz., music store when the clerk recommended a violin because all the cellos had been rented.

Morris – then a fourth grader and new member of the Alma Elementary School orchestra – would return frequently to rent instruments, his musical appetite fueled by the school orchestra and band.  By the end of elementary school, he’d added flute, saxophone, guitar, piano and voice lessons to his after-school routine.

He’d found his passion. And by seventh grade he encountered a performing group that combined his love of fiddling, showmanship and teaching.

He first saw Barrage perform at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Phoenix. It was love at first sight. The high-energy fiddlers who dance, sing and delight audiences with their musical virtuosity captured Morris. “He leaned over to me during the performance and said, ‘Mom, I’m going to be in this group someday.’”

Morris arrived at ASU after graduating from Dobson High School in Mesa with an impressive list of musical theater, orchestra, band, debate and even teaching experience. He enrolled in Barrett, the Honors College and then auditioned for the violin performance program at the ASU School of Music in the Herberger Institute. It was there that he met professor Katherine McLin, who would become his teacher and mentor.

“When Taylor auditioned as an undergraduate student, he was a bundle of raw talent and enthusiasm with minimal organization and structure in his playing,” McLin said. “I was intrigued by his obvious love and passion for the violin and music and was interested in seeing how his playing would develop with formal and rigorous training. Accepting him into my studio has been one of the best decisions I have ever made,’’ McLin said.  “Taylor worked incredibly hard and quickly filled the gaps in his technique. Once he developed the technical tools that enabled him to express himself on the instrument, it was clear to me by his junior year that I had a very special musician under my tutelage.”

When Barrage directors contacted McLin about an opening they had on their eight-member cast, she encouraged Morris to audition. He was then a junior but the Canadian-based group was loath to have him drop out of school despite the fact that he was one of its finalists.

The group’s directors assured him he was on the short list for the next opening, which appeared within a few weeks of his graduation in 2008.

“I left ASU and walked straight into a job,’’ Morris said.

It was a job most musicians only dream about: performing around the world for 42 weeks of the year in exotic locations from China to Italy and all over the United States doing 250 shows a year.

“Taylor has a unique skill set,’’ McLin said. “He is a very talented musician and a natural performer who is comfortable not only playing the violin but also speaking, singing and dancing on stage. To say this is unusual for a violinist in the classical music realm would be a tremendous understatement. But for Taylor it is effortless,’’ McLin said.

At 7 p.m., May 6, at the Francis Parker School in Chicago, Barrage will perform its final show. The 15-year-old group created to inspire young musicians with the sheer joy of making music will take a hiatus, according to one of its founders, Dean Marshall.

It’s a bittersweet prospect for Morris, who is anticipating this chapter ending and the next beginning. “It’s like the first and last days of high school at once,’’ he said. He has 19 shows left with stops in places like Billings, Mont., Yakima, Wash., and Green Bay, Wisc., before winding up in Chicago.

He has learned to live on the road with fellow musicians, moving from being the newcomer to a group not knowing any of the inside jokes, to being one of its veteran violinists and vocalists with three and a half hours of music, including several Chinese folk tunes, stockpiled in his brain and fingers.

The job has been a near-perfect blend of what he loves most: teaching and performing. This final leg of the group’s tour repeats what Barrage does most of its season: residencies at schools and in communities working with individual students and student orchestras refining their technique and showing them how to perform and then putting on a two-hour, non-stop, toe-tapping Barrage performance.

“I really love performing and I really love teaching,’’ Morris said. “It will be an interesting balance to maintain. I don’t want to sacrifice my playing ability for teaching and I don’t want to sacrifice teaching with playing. I will have to strike a balance.’’

Although he is leaving Barrage, he will continue to do what he is most passionate about: using music as a tool to help create more good in society, he said.

“Barrage has provided him with incredible opportunities and given him experiences that will inform his playing and teaching the rest of his life,’’ McLin said. “I don’t know what the next chapter of his professional life will be, but I have no doubt that he will do it successfully and passionately and whoever has the chance to work with him will be the luckier for it.”

Morris said he is looking forward to returning to Arizona, a state he said he has come to appreciate after four years of travel. “It sounds lame, but I’m looking forward to the weather,’’ he said. He will teach one day at week at Highland High School in Gilbert, Ariz., where Barrage spent three days in the fall doing a residency program and performances. He is looking forward to cobbling together gigs, teaching opportunities and exploring his opportunities without the constraints of a rigorous travel and performance schedule.

“Many music schools can provide you with the techniques required for a traditional path in music, but not all can further give you an outlet to develop your creativity as you choose,’’ Morris said, reflecting on his education at ASU School of Music. “With the guidance I received from Dr. McLin, I learned not only who I want to be as a musician but also who I can be. In the arts this sort of self-driving indivuality is fundamental.”

To follow Morris, go to his website,