It’s that time of year again. The Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations have been put away, and we’re looking forward to Christmas. Now is the time when many tuba players around the world get out their TubaChristmas music and scarves and start looking ahead to attending their local TubaChristmas.
TubaChristmas was started in 1974 by Harvey G. Phillips. On December 22, 1974, over 300 tuba and euphonium players gathered in New York City on the Ice Rink Stage of Rockefeller Plaza to honor the memory of William J. Bell (born Christmas Day, 1902) and to celebrate his significant achievements as a performer and teacher.
“William Bell’s contributions to the field of music and his achievements as a performing artist rank him among the great musicians of the Twentieth Century. Few Instrumentalists have equaled his artistry and even fewer have had such impact upon the image, acceptance, and establishment of artistic standards for their instrument. Arturo Toscanini considered Bill Bell to be the world’s greatest tubist.
In addition to his artistry as a performer, William Bell was a great teacher. He inspired students to maximum use of their talent and ability. Virtually every outstanding tuba player in the past five decades has benefited from Bell’s unique gifts as a teacher. He was a generous man who gave of himself completely–in music, in teaching, in friendship. William Bell inspired admiration, respect and love in all who were privileged to know him.”
-Harvey G. Phillips
“I’ve written an enormous amount of tuba music. Cause [Harvey Philips] has proven that the tuba is a glorious solo instrument. You wouldn’t believe it unless you heard it. It’s tremendous! … He has single-handedly brought in a whole, I’d say, … there are at least 400 pieces now written for tuba where when I first started writing for it, I think there were about four.”
- Alec Wilder, Composer/Arranger
I have been attending TubaChristmas for 27 years. Yes, it’s cheesy. Yes, it’s geeky. Maybe not everyone is playing the music perfectly. However, there are a lot of good things that go on. When I first started playing the tuba, TubaChristmas was the one of the few events during the year that I could talk with so many other tuba players and the only one that I could actually play next to more experienced players. I could sit between the middle school kid who just started playing and the octogenarian who had been playing for 60+years. We all had one important thing in common: we were tuba players.
Many players bring in their rare horns of the tuba family such as the double bell euphonium, Helicon, Ophicleide, ContraBass Bugle, Wagner Tuba, and Serpent. We also have a group of musicians who own several working horns from the Civil War Era that face back over their shoulders in order to direct their sound to their troops behind them. (I’m not sure I like the thought of this senerio of the band marching out in front of the troops during wartime.) There are all makes and models of tubas represented in every key. (I have even seen a clear plastic tuba that was made in a garage)
TubaChristmas seeks to present a rewarding musical experience for both the musicians and the public; to build a sense of pride and awareness in their chosen instrument while creating life-long friendships and camaraderie. It seeks to showcase the beauty of the instrument to the public.
The music is traditional Christmas music, arranged in four part harmony with Euphonium covering soprano amp; alto and tuba players on tenor amp; bass. (there are bass and treble clef parts for the euphonium players). The music isn’t terribly difficult, but there are melody parts; the kind of music that tuba players aren’t typically used to playing. It’s much more interesting than Oom Pah. And it’s a wonderfully unique and family friendly way to celebrate the Christmas season.
For more information about TubaChristmas, dates and locations, and to purchase music visit the TubaChristmas website.
Author’s Edit: One of our students is excited about TubaChristmas this year. He says he likes to go to TubaChristmas because while at school, he is the only one on his instrument, but at TC he is surrounded by many other euphonium/tuba players. This gives him confidence. He comes back a stronger player.