What comes to mind when you picture Rockefeller Center in December? Ice-skaters twirling beneath the world’s most-photographed gigantic Yule tree? A long line of tinsel-trimmed Rockettes doing their high kicks in perfect unison in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular? How about…300 guys playing the tuba together?
Yes, it was on that iconic skating rink in midtown Manhattan that the first TubaChristmas concert was staged, in 1974: a tribute to tuba teacher William Bell, born on Christmas Day in 1902. The event inspired players all over the world of conical-bore wind instruments – tubas, sousaphones, baritones, euphoniums, helicons, ophicleides, serpents and double-bell euphoniums – to come out of the woodwork and demand their own annual day to shine.
Nowadays, TubaChristmas concerts are held far and wide. According to the tradition that has evolved, any musician can play in a TubaChristmas concert as long as he or she plays an instrument in the tuba family. It’s a sort of collective catharsis of the simmering frustration of always being the poor stepchildren of the orchestra’s wind section, I suppose.
In the Hudson Valley, you can experience this amazing gathering of deep brassy voices playing traditional Christmas music from around the world next Saturday, December 17, courtesy of the SUNY-Ulster Music Department. If you’re a tuba or euphonium player – of any age or level of proficiency – show up to register at 12 noon and rehearse at 1 p.m. The free concert begins at 3 p.m. in the Ulster Savings Bank Community Conference Center at Clinton Hall on the SUNY-Ulster campus, located at 491 Cottekill Road in Stone Ridge. For more info, call (845) 687-5000.