Sunday, December 04, 2011

Lazy Sunday # 198: Tuba Christmas


There are basically three kinds of Christmas traditions.

There are those everybody is familiar with, Midnight Mass, Santa Claus, the tree and the gifts, turkey and stuffing.

There are those that evolve within families, recreating the moments everybody treasures from Christmases past.

And then there’s the third kind. The kind that don’t make a lot of sense – but still keep coming back year after year.

William Bell was born on Christmas Day, 1902 and went on to become the premier player and teacher of the tuba for most of the twentieth century.

He began his career with John Philip Sousa and went on to play with the New York Philharmonic and help found the NBC Symphony orchestra.

Among Bell’s protégés was Alec Wilder, a mostly self-taught composer who wrote eleven operas and composed Jazz pieces for odd combinations of instruments.

Wilder also loved Christmas and published the first arrangements of Christmas carols for – of all things – the tuba. In an odd twist, he died on Christmas Eve.

Among Wilder’s protégés was Harvey Philips, who thought it would be a great idea to have as many tuba players as he could find play Wilder’s arrangements to honor Bell on his birthday.

The first Tuba Christmas was held on the ice rink in New York’s Rockefeller Center in 1974. More than 300 players gathered to play various instruments of the tuba family, including sousaphones and the euphonium. One or two brought along the rarest members, the helicon and the serpent.

The concert was a smash hit and has been repeated every year since. It also spawned Tuba Christmas concerts in thousands of cities all around the world.

In every case, the organizers try to find as many players as they can ranging in age from school kids no bigger than their instrument to octogenarians who have played it all their lives. The sizes of the orchestras range from the official minimum of 4 to several hundred.

A lot of people don’t find the sound of the tuba all that pleasant. But I’m here to tell you that in a bunch they are something to behold.

It’s likely there’s a Tuba Christmas concert happening near you this Holiday Season. I have a feeling that if you attend once, Tuba Christmas will become one of your own seasonal traditions.

Someday, it might just become one of those that everybody associates with Christmas.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Tuba Christmas from Christopher Polydoroff on Vimeo.

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