NEW FEATURE!

The Holiday Spirit in Low Brass

TubaChristmas brings different generations of musicians together for a fun concert.

TubaChristmas brings different generations of musicians together for a fun concert.

BY Karen O’Brien

If you’re looking for a fun way to get the whole family into the holiday spirit, find a TubaChristmas concert near you and make plans to attend.

So just what is TubaChristmas? It’s a unique live-music event that exclusively features tuba, baritone, and euphonium musicians playing Christmas carols and holiday tunes.

In 1974, Harvey Phillips decided to pay tribute to his teacher and mentor, William Bell, who was born on Christmas Day 1902, with this unique concert that has become a holiday tradition. On December 22, 1974, Paul Lavelle conducted the first TubaChristmas event at New York City’s famed Rockefeller Plaza Ice Rink, and in the 41 years since that event, TubaChristmas concerts have kicked off the holidays at venues around the country.

Fortunately for Central Wisconsin revelers, there are three TubaChristmas concerts planned for the holiday season. Here is a little information on each of these wonderful concerts.

You don’t have to dress up to participate in TubaChristmas, but why wouldn’t you? The Menomonie event featured lots of colorful characters.

You don’t have to dress up to participate in TubaChristmas, but why wouldn’t you? The Menomonie event featured lots of colorful characters.

Friday, December 5 in Appleton
Jim Jensen didn’t exactly intend to become the organizer of the Appleton TubaChristmas when he first started participating, but his enthusiasm for the event made him the perfect choice.

“Nick Keelan is the trombone instructor at Lawrence University, and he started the event 25 years ago,” Jensen said. “I was a band director a long time ago and ran into the event one Christmas. I started playing in it. I would nag Nick about it every year, and about 14 or 15 years ago I nagged him in July, so he turned over coordinating it to me.

“Every year we have between 100 to 125 players. We used to rehearse in the Lawrence band room, and we played on the third floor of the Avenue Mall. The sound just echoed all over that building. As it got bigger, we couldn’t fit in the band room. And when we hit 100 people in 2006, we moved to Fox Valley Lutheran.”

Players of all ages and abilities are welcome to participate.

“They can get music from me at the event, and I’ll be taking some down to the Hyde Music Store in Appleton,” Jensen said. “Hyde’s prints up song sheets with the lyrics, and we hand them out to the audience. It’s a nice sing-along—we encourage people to try to out-sing the brass.

“It’s a free concert, of course. We try to hold it a week or so after Thanksgiving, and several people who come back year after year consider this the start of their personal Christmas season. Everyone has fun.”

The Appleton event is held on Friday, December 5 at Fox Valley Lutheran High School, 5300 N. Meade Street. For those who want to play along, registration is at 4:00 pm with a $10 fee for participants. Rehearsal begins at 5:00 pm, and the concert (which is free) begins at 7:00 pm.

For more information, go to www.Tuba.jbjensen.net or contact Jim Jensen at 920-850-2633.

Dr. Lawrence conducts last year’s TubaChristmas. All ages and talent levels are welcome to participate on December 12.

Dr. Lawrence conducts last year’s TubaChristmas. All ages and talent levels are welcome to participate on December 12.

Sunday, December 7 in Menomonie
One of the newest Wisconsin TubaChristmas events takes place in Menomonie. (And for those of you who can’t keep it straight, this Menomonie is in the northwestern part of the state.)

“This is our third year,” event coordinator Anita Keeler said. “We had 44 musicians our first year and 42 last year, but we had more than 800 people in the audience.

“We held it on Thanksgiving weekend last year, so there weren’t as many players. We decided on the first week in December for this year, and we might switch it to a Saturday next year. The university at Eau Claire has its holiday concert on the same day, and we are sorry we won’t have them here.”

All ages and talent levels are welcome to participate. The only requirement is that players have a baritone, euphonium, or tuba.

“We have a trombonist and even a sax player that switch instruments for the day so they can participate,” Keeler said. “Our first year, we had a 92-year-old World War II veteran play with us, and our youngest was a 12-year-old. A choir joins us, and when we play a tune the second time through, the choir leads it. The first time through is for the brass alone.

“This year, the choir is going to sing at 3:30 pm before the concert begins at 4:00. I love the choir being part of it. We have a projector that puts the words on the wall so the audience can sing with the choir. People really enjoy it.

“All of the carols are traditional Christmas music. The only song that isn’t—“Komm Susser Tod”—is played in honor of William Bell.

Jerry Young is the tuba professor at UW–Eau Claire, and he knew Harvey Phillips. So Jerry introduces that song and conducts it. I recruited a woodwind to conduct! We recruited the band director from Amery to conduct because she is a woodwind and won’t miss playing.”

Both attendees and participants agree that these TubaChristmas events are pretty special.

All low brass instruments are welcome at TubaChristmas. This image was taken last year at the Menomonie event.

All low brass instruments are welcome at TubaChristmas. This image was taken last year at the Menomonie event.

“It’s a really fun family outing that is just so traditional,” Keeler said. “Christmas music appeals to everyone. It’s a free concert, and it’s only an hour long. There aren’t too many things that the whole family can do to celebrate Christmas in such a wholesome way. I’m sitting next to my high school band instructor and playing with two of my children. I feel so blessed. Bill Baldwin was my band instructor. One person can make a difference, and Bill Baldwin was that [person] for me. Harvey Phillips had William Bell, and I have Bill Baldwin.”

The Menomonie concert will be held at Alliance Church on 502 21st Street North in Menomonie. Registration for participants is at 2:15 pm, with a $10 fee for participants, and rehearsal begins at 2:45 pm. The free concert begins at 4:00 pm.

For more information on the Menomonie concert, contact Carroll D. Rund at 715-235-3914, Anita and Jessica Keeler at 715-235-6404, or Bill Baldwin at 715-268-7474.

Friday, December 12 in Stevens Point
Dr. Patrick Lawrence started the TubaChristmas event at UWSP four years ago, and has enjoyed watching it grow.

“Before I moved to Wisconsin, I played a few times in Arizona,” Dr. Lawrence said. “Since we started here, we’ve had 55, then 65, and up to 85 performers last year. It’s great to see it catch on like that. It’s an all-ages concert, and we’ve had performers range in age from a sixth grader to someone in their eighties. Everyone is welcome.”

To preregister, performers can go to www.uwsp.edu/music.

“Every TubaChristmas event uses the same book—Carols for a Merry TubaChristmas. It’s $20, and they can use it for the rest of their lives,” Dr. Lawrence said. “They pay $10 to participate. We send that money on, and it goes to charity. We probably play through two-thirds of the tunes in the book for the concert, and I try to mix it up.

“We rehearse for an hour, then everyone has dinner, and the concert is about 45 minutes long.

“One of the fun things is that the musicians dress up in brightly colored Christmas clothing for this. The audience members have started doing this, too. It’s great. Lots of people decorate their instruments with everything from garland to blinking lights—they go all out!”

Dr. Lawrence also enjoys the camaraderie of TubaChristmas because some of these musicians will only see each other once a year at this event.

“As a player, it’s an opportunity to play melodies. Basses and euphoniums lay down bass lines so often, so I think it’s a good draw. And most of these performers wouldn’t have the chance to play together otherwise. For the audience, it’s family-friendly, it’s free, and it’s a really good time.”

The Stevens Point TubaChristmas event will be held at Michelsen Hall in the Noel Fine Arts Center on the UWSP campus.

Registration for participants begins at 4:30 pm, with a $10 fee for participants. Rehearsal begins at 5:00 pm, and the free concert begins at 7:30 pm. For more information about the Stevens Point concert, contact Dr. Lawrence at 715-498-9913.

For more information on TubaChristmas events around the state, and even the country, go to www.tubachristmas.com.

Karen O’Brien is a freelance writer and musician.

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