UTC band member: 'I want to see jaws drop'

Staff Photo by Mark Kennedy / Tizzy Smith, pictured Tuesday, is the trumpet section leader of the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga's Marching Mocs. He is elated the band has grown to more than 140 members this year.
photo Staff Photo by Mark Kennedy/Tizzy Smith, pictured Tuesday, is the trumpet section leader of the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga's Marching Mocs. He is elated the band has grown to more than 140 members this year.

When he was a baby, Tizzy Smith's older sister would soothe his crying by leaning over his crib, fluttering her fingers in front of his face and cooing: "tizzy, tizzy, tizzy."

The name stuck.

Today, Tizzy Smith is the 20-year-old brass-section leader of the re-emergent University of Tennessee-Chattanooga Marching Mocs.

He plays trumpet - although the more appropriate verb might be, he "lives" trumpet. He has a trumpet mouthpiece to his lips at least three hours a day either practicing alone or rehearsing with an ensemble.

Amazingly, the UTC marching band had withered to fewer than 40 members last summer, but more than 140 instrumentalists and color guard members are expected to be in the unit Sept. 3 when the Mocs host the Wofford College Terriers. Band members begin reporting to campus later this week.

The on-field debut of the rebuilt band program next month has Smith, a UTC junior from Huntingdon, Tennessee, flush with anticipation.

"When we play that first, loud note, I want to see jaws drop!" Smith said in an interview at UTC last week.

Smith attributes the phenomenal year-over-year growth of the band to the efforts of band director Randall Coleman, who came to UTC last summer from his former job as associate director of bands and professor of conducting at the University of Alabama. Before that, Coleman was a high school band director for more than 25 years.

Through tireless recruiting and what Smith calls "character and charisma," Coleman more than tripled the size of the band in about 12 months.

"It's incredible. It's so exciting," Smith says.

Huntingdon, Smith's hometown, has only 4,400 residents, according to the 2020 U.S. census. Smith says there were only 80 kids in the graduating class at Huntingdon High School, and his high school band only had a few dozen players after COVID-19 decimated the unit.

Being part of a band with 140-plus marchers is a dream come true for Smith, who says his career goal is to play trumpet forever.

"I'd love to play anywhere" he said. "I could be playing on a cruise ship. I could be playing on a bridge. I just want to play, that's all I want to do."

Being part of a big marching band playing powerful musical arrangements to a crowd of hyped-up Mocs football fans is all he could hope for, Smith says.

"It's insane how fast the band program [at UTC] has grown in less than a year," Smith says. "But as soon as Randall Coleman came, I could see that he was in the game. He really wanted to make a huge difference."

Smith says he thinks the band's trumpet section will be at least twice as big as last year, when there were only five players. The band will also sport new uniforms, and UTC has had to invest in lots of new instruments to equip the growing band, he says.

Meanwhile, Smith, an instrumental performance major, is all in on his music career - a state of mind he attributes to his mentor, John Oelrich, director of bands at the University of Tennessee at Martin. Smith said he took private lessons from Oelrich for years and considers him a friend as well as a teacher.

"He taught me how to get through life through the art of music," Smith says. When things got hard, Smith says Oelrich would tell him to put away the trumpet and listen to recordings of great brass players.

"He sat me down and took my tool - the trumpet - away, and had me to hone in on what the music can be," Smith says.

For his part, Oelrich wrote in an email, "I could write a book about Tizzy. [He] is the kind of student that comes along all too rarely in one's career - the kind of person who has an insatiable thirst for learning and doesn't need to be pushed, just steered.

"I am unbelievably proud of, but not at all surprised at, the great things Tizzy has accomplished and am honored to have played a small part in helping him to realize all the beautiful things that make him who he is."

Smith's love of music is so visceral that sometimes, alone in a practice room, he plays snippets of the jaunty trumpet feature called "Carnival of Venice" just to lift his mood.

But trumpet is a social instrument, carrying the melodic lead in a marching band, which makes it a good fit for Smith's outgoing personality.

Smith says part of the UTC band's "show" this year is an arrangement of George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," a nearly 100-year-old piece of music that begins with a solo clarinet trill and builds into a lush combination of classical and jazz sounds.

This musical crescendo in Rhapsody is a good metaphor for the 2022 Marching Mocs, a unit that promises to rise up from humble beginnings last year to produce a big, resonant wall of sound.

And when the music reaches its apex inside Finley Stadium, jaws may drop, indeed.

Life Stories publishes on Mondays. To suggest a human interest story, contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com.