When Don Hough first came to The University of Tennessee to teach trombone in 1965, the School of Music was still on the Hill, while wheat fields surrounded most of campus.
After 41 years of service, the professor of music is retiring at the end of this semester.
Born into a Texas family of cheerleaders and football players, it came as a shock to his parents that their son preferred music to athletic endeavors, especially football. But passion called, and Hough listened.
In high school, he played the euphonium (a tenor-voiced brass-instrument) but switched to the trombone. He attended Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, where he majored in musical education.
Following college, he ran a music shop, working 20-hour days. The hours were draining, so when his brother-in-law mentioned that UT needed a trombone teacher, he took the opportunity. Hough expected to work for a year — a transition job to build his résumé. Little did he know he’d be here 40 years later.
During his tenure at UT, Hough conducted the University Studio Jazz Orchestra and was the principal trombonist for the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra for more than 30 years. He also directed the UT Brass Choir, Brass Quintets.
“Don’s a man of great vision,” said Rusty Holloway, adjunct associate professor of music and a close friend of Hough’s.
That vision came to a crescendo when he founded the Tennessee Trombonery, consisting of eight UT students. In 2003, its year of conception, it won the Kai Winding International Competition for Jazz Trombone Ensemble in Helsinki, Finland.
“That was really a groove,” Hough said.
Hough still remembers the students’ names, where they are today and what they’re doing. Some are in Manhattan and others in Chicago. Above a sofa in his office hangs a picture of the Trombonery, taken in the basement of the Clarence Brown Theatre. He made a special effort to show off that photograph.
After more than 40 years playing the trombone, Hough has not become tired and still practices three hours a day.
“Don was the greatest living example of ‘Come early and leave late,’” Holloway said. “This guy was one of the best inspirations I ever had. He’s got this big old bike and he’d ride to school in the mornings with his trombone case strapped on his back. I’d tell myself to get off the porch and practice my bass. That’s an image that will always be in the back of my mind.”
Irene Carney, a secretary with the music school, agreed.
“He’ll definitely be missed,” she said. “He’s a really nice man. He’s just very dedicated to his group and school. He’s always trying to get his students to attend different conferences and workshops. He is very dedicated to his program. He wants them to succeed. They truly do perform well.”
During retirement, he will still stay active in music, playing in one of the many jazz bands to which he belongs. But he also plans to pursue his second strongest passion after music — The Jazz Path, a 32-foot sailboat he owns and plans to sail on, with his wife, to the Bahamas and Caribbean.