• Burr Morse: Creating his own rhythm
    January 07,2013

    Betsy recently made the comment, “Y’can herd folks into a cattle shoot just so far until they find a way to bolt.”

    That brought back all kinds of recollections to me, namely that I’m pretty good at herdin’ cattle. Yup, I can get right in a critter’s head and stay one jump ahead of it. But kids, now they’re a different story. We all carry regrets about our child-rearing days and one that Betsy carried for a long time has recently emerged to her as a plus.

    When our boys Robby and Tommy were young, we took a family shopping trip to Burlington. Robby, 13 at the time, made it clear from the start that he wanted to separate from the rest of us.

    “Please let me go to my own stores,” he begged, promising to be careful and meet us back at our car at an appointed time.

    We searched our souls but he had worked hard picking strawberries and doing other tasks on our farm. We considered him mature for his years and let him go. Betsy, Tommy, 11, and I headed off in a different direction.

    As I remember, our time that day was shaded with fear that something would go wrong. When we returned to our car, however, there stood our oldest son with a strangely happy look on his face and a big case by his side.

    ”What is that?” Betsy asked.

    “I bought a bass with my strawberry money,” Robby said in a firm voice.

    Betsy hit the roof in a big way. “You were suppose to save that money ... you’re a trombone and piano player, Robby.”

    She railed on about “spreading himself too thin” and the trials of impulsive spending. Robby wasn’t buying the impulsive argument. He said he’d been thinking “bass” for a long time. Needless to say, the bass episode lent the opposite of good rhythm for our trip home and, in Betsy’s mind, for years after that.

    Fast forward to summer 2012 on Church Street in Burlington: Betsy and I stand elbow to elbow in a huge crowd listening to a new and dynamic jazz group perform for Burlington’s famous Discover Jazz Festival. The audience includes many local jazz luminaries plus droves of other folks swaying to the sounds.

    The performers include our two sons, Tommy, trumpet luminary on his own, and Robby, the group’s leader and one of Vermont’s most well-known bassists. Robby, the musician, had composed and arranged all the music; Robby the businessman had busted into the tightly juried Discover Jazz lineup.

    And folks were loving it!

    Robby’s livelihood has centered around the bass for years now. He has played both upright bass and bass guitar professionally since his early 20s and, at 29, he went back to college and obtained a bachelor’s degree in music performance. He also works by the day in a woodshop repairing cellos and basses, a luthier by trade.

    In the world of music, the bass is a blue-collar instrument. Standing ovations are as rare for a bass player as invitations to solo; that’s not its nature. The job of the bass player is to provide a solid rhythmic foundation for all the other musicians. Without the bass, they would all fall flat.

    That’s a perfect metaphor for Robby Morse’s life: he’s always there for people, but shying from the limelight.

    Like the proverbial water over the dam, there’s been a trillion waves of sound since the day that Robby bolted back in Burlington and millions of those waves have his name on them. Betsy’s had to eat her words many times over about ways a boy should spend his strawberry money.

    We’re both so proud of him for knowing what he wanted and going after it. In fact, these days, Betsy’s advice to him is in the fortissimo range: “You can do anything you want Robby; just be happy, help the world play music, and for goodness sake, take a bow!”

    Burr Morse lives in East Montpelier.

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