For my family, this story begins at Purdue University in West Lafayette, where my sister (a tenor saxophone player) met her now-husband (a tuba player) when they were members of the best darned band in the land, the Purdue All-American Marching Band. Through my brother-in-law, I’ve come to know that tubas are a culture of their own. One of the finest tuba traditions I’ve yet to learn about is TubaChristmas.
According to www.tubachristmas.com, “TUBACHRISTMAS was conceived in 1974 as a tribute to the late artist/teacher William J. Bell, born on Christmas Day, 1902. Through the legendary William J. Bell we reflect on our heritage and honor all great artists/teachers whose legacy has given us high performance standards, well structured pedagogy, professional integrity, personal values and a camaraderie envied by all other instrumentalists. The first TUBACHRISTMAS was conducted by the late Paul Lavalle in New York City's Rockefeller Plaza Ice Rink on Sunday, December 22, 1974. Traditional Christmas music performed at the first TUBACHRISTMAS was arranged by American composer Alec Wilder who ironically died on Christmas Eve, 1980.”
TubaChristmas is celebrated in locations all over the U.S. This year, my brother-in-law participated in TubaChristmas concerts in Dayton, OH (Wright State University), West Lafayette, IN (Purdue University), Chicago (Palmer House Hilton), and Antioch, IL (Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church). Check the TubaChristmas website for a list of locations. Locally, it’s celebrated annually at Valparaiso University’s Chapel of the Resurrection on the first Sunday of December.
I’ve been lucky enough to be a spectator at the Chicago event in both 2009 and 2011. Hearing 300-400 tubas and other low-brass tuba cousins perform all the classic carols is quite a moving experience… you can truly feel it! And TubaChristmas is for all ages of players and spectators. This year, the youngest musicians at the Chicago event were 10 years old, and the oldest was 88!
The TubaChristmas season is likely over for 2011, but I encourage you to find some video footage on-line…though I’m sure it won’t do justice for the in-person show! Be sure to mark your calendar for a TubaChristmas concert next year!