Few of us are fortunate enough to truly know what career we want to pursue from a young age. Gary Morris, director of choirs at Tech, was one of the few.
“I was raised around [music] in the church and school as well, but I really decided that I wanted to teach when I was in ninth-grade choir,” Morris said. “Then I got involved in All State and other things like that, and I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I just loved the choral music so much.”
Morris is known around Arkansas, the United States and even the world for his accomplishments. He has been in the business for forty-three years and has taught a multitude of choirs.
Morris started his degree at Arkansas State University and continued on to Vandercook College of Music and Westminster Choir College.
He has had the opportunity to study under many successful teachers throughout his career, but his main mentor was Alfred Skoog at Arkansas State University.
“Early on in my career, kind of like Forrest Gump, I was just in the right place at the right time,” Morris said.
Music education is not for the faint of heart. A large percentage of music students drop out after their first or second year. Students are tested and trained rigorously in music theory, ear training and piano for four semesters, which weeds out the unsure.
Morris himself struggled through it, but his passion kept him going.
“You have to love people, and you have to love music,” Morris said. “You have to love getting people to make music, but even more so, getting music to make people.”
Morris picks songs with meaning and shows his students how to connect with the music. If students need help connecting, he will sit the choir down during class and tell the back story and his experience with it. His passion for music is evident.
Morris refused the opportunity to apply for tenure, partially because of his age, but also because he cares for his choirs.
“Arkansas Tech became a reality, and I came here to help for a few years, and now I’m on number fourteen; I’m lucky,” Morris said. “I have always felt that if I wasn’t doing the job the university wanted, they should be free to replace me.”
Becoming a choir director is hard work, and Morris doesn’t hide that fact.
“You’ve got to really want to do it because it’s time consuming,” he said. “It’s tough, but it’s very, very rewarding. But if you don’t have that love to begin with—I just can’t imagine going to work somewhere where I didn’t love what I was doing.”