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Receiving the Neill Humfeld Award for Excellence in Trombone Teaching from the International Trombone Association (ITA), the highest trombone teaching award in the world, is a testament to retired UT Knoxville music professor Don Hough’s extensive musical career.

Hough always had a gift for playing trombone and started his musical training in the small Texas town of Silsbee at a young age. It was during college and two years of active duty in the United States Navy, however, that Hough’s gift blossomed into a true passion.

As a radio operator for naval intelligence stationed in Japan, he had his trombone with him on the ship and would find time to practice his craft.

“Jazz is a real love of mine. I play everything, but I love the genre and what it’s about. I really enjoy playing jazz,” Hough said.

After his stint in the U.S. Navy, Hough earned his B.S. in Music Education in 1964 and began teaching at UT the following year.

At UT Knoxville, Hough expanded the Jazz Big Band program and founded the University Studio Jazz Orchestra and Tennessee Trombonery, which encourages trombone improvisation. One of his biggest contributions to UT was with the Tennessee Trombone Choir. He received the Chancellor’s Citation for Teaching Excellence given by UT Knoxville and the Faculty Outreach Award given by the then College of Liberal Arts (now the College of Arts and Sciences).

With all of these accomplishments, Hough still found time to nurture his skills by playing in the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, and other regional orchestras. Balancing a music career and teaching is something many music professors must do, he said.

“Most music professors do, and the schedule is horrendous. They usually go to rehearsal at night. Playing is considered creative activity,” Hough said. “There is also performing and/or composing. It’s healthy for your own growth and sets a good example for your students.”

After nearly 20 years of teaching, Mr. Hough enlisted in the Tennessee Air National Guard part time in order to finish out a full military career. Hough was a soloist with the Tennessee Air National Guard Concert Band. He also was director of the jazz band and held the highest enlisted position of Band Superintendent. Hough retired from the military 13 years later with the rank of Senior Master Sergeant.

Hough taught trombone for a total of 41 years at UT Knoxville, retiring in fall 2006.

“Being retired, I was practicing retirement and reading a book by the fire when I got the call that I received the award,” Hough said.

The ITA gives the Humfeld Award to only one deserving teacher each year. Hough, a little shocked when he learned he was the recipient, thanks his students for nominating him.

“My students had a lot to do with me getting this award. They placed my name into nomination to the International Trombone Association,” Hough said.

Hough also is very proud of his students and their own accomplishments.

“My students do very well. I have some playing on Broadway, in orchestras, and even conducting. Others are teaching in colleges and high schools. It’s incredible,” he said.

Hough still visits some of his students and attends their performances. The most recent was at the Vienna Philharmonic in New York City.

Hough comes from a family of teachers, but was the only one that went into music. Now he teaches private students, plays in the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra, and is director of the Knoxville Youth Jazz Orchestra.

“These kids are terrific. But I am definitely going to try to retire to spend time on my sailboat,” Hough said. “The dream is to take a trip. I want to do some serious sailing.”

Hough still practices three to four hours a day and plays a lot of jazz. His accomplishments for his trombone teaching are a great asset to UT. But Hough believes his most lasting legacy lies in the accomplishments of his students.

For more information on the award, visit