Think About It

What is a TUBACHRISTMAS?

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | December 14, 2013

“I don’t play the tuba. The tuba plays me. My tuba is not actually a tuba, because it has never produced a musical sound. It is actually a giant frog pretending to be a tuba.”
David Klass

Michael Ebie loves the tuba. I first met him and his family when he was nine years old. I was the morning Bible teacher at a family camp in Ohio and his father invited me to join their family at their camper for a lunch of hot dogs on the grill.   

Michael is now a senior in high school, and he has been practicing the tuba for about three years. When he talks about his instrument, his eyes sparkle. If it were not so large, it might never leave his side. 

This fall Michael visited our campus with his father in order to try-out for a music scholarship by demonstrating his proficiency on his tuba. I learned that he also visited a music store in New Jersey that specialized in tubas. Later I found out that he had the joy of playing nearly 20 different tubas in that store. 

During one campus visit he also dropped by my office to see his sister, Chrysta, who is my administrative assistant. We had a chance to visit and it was during that conversation in my office that Michael brought up the topic of a TUBACHRISTMAS (as it is officially named). I am not sure why he mentioned it but once he did, I was instantly fascinated. 

TUBACHRISTMAS began in 1974 when Harvey Phillips decided to honor his teacher and mentor, William J. Bell who was born on Christmas day, 1902. The first TUBACHRISTMAS was conducted by Paul Lavalle in New York City’s Rockefeller Plaza Ice Rink on Sunday, December 22, 1974. The traditional Christmas music that was performed was arranged by Alec Wilder, who ironically died on Christmas Eve in 1980. Over 300 musicians played that day, beginning a holiday tradition.

Phillips had a hard time convincing Rockefeller Center to let hundreds of tubas play on the ice rink. He had to provide the unlisted telephone numbers of some of his friends like Leonard Bernstein, Morton Gould and others. Only after checking his references was he given permission. 

2013 is the 40th anniversary of TUBACHRISTMAS for those who play, teach, and compose music for instruments of the tuba family including the tuba, sousaphone, baritone, and euphonium. Some participants bring rarer members of the family such as the helicon, ophicleide, serpent and double bell euphonium.

TUBACHRISTMAS concerts vary in size from a quartet (two euphoniums and two tubas) to several hundred, at the largest events. Thousands attend these popular concerts which are now held in 116 cities attracting thousands of visitors.

Michael himself will participate in his fourth event this Christmas in northeastern Ohio with thousands of people in attendance and close to 500 tuba players performing together. He described the fun he had and the festive atmosphere with the musicians decorating their instruments with all kinds of holiday paraphernalia. He made his up like a portable fireplace. You can even order hats and scarves and headbands with the words TUBACHRISTMAS embroidered on them. 

One of these days Evie and I must go to a TUBACHRISTMAS and find out what it is like first hand. I can hardly imagine the unique sound and the fun such an event would be. There would be few places where you would find more people who couldn’t agree more with W.I. Ellis’ words, “It is Christmas in the heart that puts Christmas in the air.”  

But at this time of the year, I suppose it doesn’t matter if you are attending a TUBACHRISTMAS, a traditional rendition of Handel’s "Messiah," or even just joining a group of friends for Christmas caroling. Tom Sims was right when he said, “Did you ever notice that life seems to follow certain patterns? Like I noticed that every year around this time I hear Christmas music.”  

Think about it.


Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA 
Responses can be mailed to president@vfcc.edu 
Official page: Facebook.com/DrDonMeyer
Follow on Twitter: @DrDonMeyer
Archives at www.vfcc.edu/thinkaboutit
 

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