Mas Tuba

More cowbell?  Meh… How about more tuba?!

So sorry my kid had to miss this newly discovered event in our world: TubaChristmas. Started in 1974 by Harvey Phillips to honor his teacher, William Bell, (festive name), who was born on Christmas Day (festive birthday!) in 1902, this thing has really grown over the years – from its first performance in Rockefeller Plaza (with arrangements written by Alec Wilder, a songwriter of whom I am a great fan, and who himself died on Christmas day in 1980) this event has spread all across the US. (My cursory research indicates TC happens in a whole lotta states, although I can’t say exactly how many.) There were over 400 tuba players present for this year’s event in Chicago just this afternoon, and I can only guess NYC was not to be outdone by the Second City.

I was lucky to find a shopping mall within a half hour’s drive which hosted a respectable turnout. My kid has been on track for playing the tuba since he was a mere toddler (I’d bring him to my shows with the Prohibition Orchestra of Chicago and it was likely there that the seed was planted as he did his primitive up-and-down baby dance to the catchy two-beat tuba patterns), and he’s asked for a tuba for Christmas this year too – so had he still been here, this mighta been the main event of the year. Instead, this was the day he flew out to be with his father for the break.

But that’s ok. I considered today to have been a reconnaissance mission. Now I know what this thing is all about. Elihu is still such a tiny guy, I’m not quite sure if he’ll be able to join them by next year anyhow. But he does seem pretty motivated. My kid, it seems, really is all about the bass…

IMG_4234To prove I was there… let’s start with a TubaChristmas selfie…

IMG_4177There are all shapes and sizes… this is a Sousaphone; the bell aims the sound out in front. It’s used for marching bands.

IMG_4180This cat’s playing a Serpentine, the tuba’s valve-less predecessor, first created in 1580, and made of wood and leather.

IMG_4207There were some purists there who didn’t quite feel his instrument was appropriate, but the press did. !

IMG_4214Collecting some info for the paper.

IMG_4220Not a great shot, but I love the feel.

IMG_4203A view from the front.

IMG_4193And a view of the interior. A sea of tubas…

IMG_4240They were a hit as folks sang along, took videos and even danced.

IMG_4247Turns out a Waldorf family was present; grandpa was playing tuba in the second to last row.

IMG_4252And here’s a tuba mom. My future. !

IMG_4257There was such a huge mix of ages in the group, and just about as many women as men.

IMG_4287Here’s Sadie and her grandpa!

IMG_4289And here’s Carle and his Serpentine.

IMG_4293Packing up.

IMG_4298I saw leftie tubas and rightie tubas, concert C, Bb and Eb tubas, baritone horns, euphoniums and sousaphones, but this was my first gander at a ‘double Bb’ horn. Whatever that means. Sounds low.

IMG_4292And these things weigh around 40 pounds by themselves! Add a hard case and we have trouble…

A little bit of O Little Town of Bethlehem

Hard to imagine I was ever a film major, huh? At least this’ll give you a feel for the event.


I was surprised that this year Elihu created a list for Santa. He’s so earnest, I don’t think it was created for my audience, but still… ya never know. Note the part (by my fingers) where he writes “baritone horn ?”, then right after “scrap that, Tuba!”   !!

Hungry for more? Here’s a piece on the event from the local paper… story and pics (taken with a ‘real’ camera) by Megan Farmer, the press gal seen in the post above.

Post Script: I’m just beginning to learn about this subculture of tubas, and would like to share this writing of Jim Self, a premier concert tuba player from Los Angeles. He talks about playing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and mentions in it his visit to the city’s TubaChristmas (yes, all one word). This is the tip of the tuba iceberg… As with everything in life, there’s so much more to it than one realizes at first…

3 thoughts on “Mas Tuba

  1. Nice pictures! Tubas are great, aren’t they? Sousaphones are sort of sister instruments of the tuba, and they catch the eye as well as the ear. Carl and his serpentine tuba looks like something that Dr. Seuss would draw.

    Every fall, there is a season of high school marching band competitions. They go to different high schools to take turns putting on their show, and judges determine who gets which ranking, etc. The biggest event toward the end of this is a big competition/marching band festival in the U. of I. stadium in Champaign. After the competition part is over, the U. of I. college band puts on quite a show. Part of this is a wonderful “dance” of some 30 or so Sousaphone players. Only the drummers play for this part, while the sousaphone players move around in what could be called a dance, weaving around each other, bobbing and turning in rhythm with the pure percussion of the drummers. Being after dark, the sousaphones shine and glint under the stadium lights, looking something like golden metallic flowers.

    There is always room in the world for more tubas. Have a joyful TubaChristmas!

    1. You’re welcome. I really don’t obsess over numbers, but I just happened to see that very number a number of times over the last few number of weeks, more times than I could number, so I thought, “why not?” Merry Christmas!

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