DC at Night

DC at Night

Friday, December 13, 2013

Friday Flashback: Merry Tuba Christmas

This article 1st appeared last December.  This year's annual Kennedy Christmas Tuba fest will take place this Wednesday, Dec. 18.

If you were asked to choose the perfect Christmas instrument, there's a strong possibility you might name bells. The seasonal hints are everywhere. Carol of the Bells. Silver Bells. Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way. Chances are few people would choose a tuba. But, based on an annual concert at the Kennedy Center last week, that oversight might be a mistake.

More than 200 tuba, sousaphone, and euphonium players from all over the Washington, D.C. area packed (and indeed overflowed onto the floor) of the Millennium Stage to perform the Merry Tuba Christmas 2012 concert.

The idea for the unique, mellow brass-instrument-only holiday concert was conceived 30 years ago by tubist Harvey Phillips as a way to honor his tuba teacher William Bell, who was born on Christmas day in 1902. The 1st concert was held in 1974 at the ice rink at New York City's Rockefeller Plaza. Since then, it has spread to more than 250 cities and communities all over the United States. The 2012 concert here marked the 22nd time the Kennedy Center had hosted the event.

The concert setlist included renditions of almost all the best-known Christmas carols. According to format, the  horns would play the 1st verse and chorus of seasonal favorites from "Oh Come, All Ye Faithful" to "Joy to the World" and then repeat as the huge (it ran the entire length of the great hallway) audience sang on the second go-round.

The musicians, who had only rehearsed for an hour in the afternoon, included both amateurs and professionals. There were members of elementary, middle-school, and high school bands, military ensembles, and Kennedy Center performers. The youngest tubist was 8; the oldest, 76. Many performers decorated their tubas with wreaths, lights, and other symbols of the season. Most wore red and green Christmas colors and several sported Santa hats. The audience even learned how tuba players acknowledge applause. Instead of standing and bowing, they remain seated and hold their instruments high in the air.

Oh, and one final thing about that Christmas bell thing. With the sounds emanating from the bell of their instruments, the one-day only tuba, sousaphone and euphonium orchestra performed a unique, low-note- loaded version of "The Carol of the Bells."

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
I imagine most of you (if not) all of your reading this post didn't have an opportunity to see this unusual performance live. But, as they do with all their free 6 p.m. Millennium Stage shows, the Kennedy Center placed it online. You can view it by clicking here. And, as an added bonus, there are links to Tuba Christmas concerts all the way back to 1999 if one performance isn't enough for you

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