I lug the monstrosity inside the building, briefly contemplating my choice of the heaviest instrument in the band. I take it out of the case, the familiar weight again in my hands. Taking my seat beside friends and fellow tuba players, I take out my music and settle in. Once again, I’m a member of an ensemble, and it feels so good to be back.
This annual event, and my reason to play again, is Tuba Christmas. Tuba, euphonium, and baritone players get together for a few hours of rehearsal and then put on a concert of Christmas favorites for the public to enjoy.
The Tuba Christmas tradition started almost 50 years ago to honor a founding tuba instructor and mentor, and the first concert was in New York. Now the events take place across the world, and today I’m enjoying our local gathering.
The low brass choir has a mellow, full sound, and it’s a treat to be able to play melody lines that usually go to other instruments in a full band. All the songs are interesting, and I think this arrangement of “Jingle Bells” with a bit of the “National Emblem” march is my favorite.
The 60-some players come from around the state. There’s more than half a century spanning between the oldest and youngest player here today. Some are junior high or high school students, some are music educators, retired or current, and others have different occupations but still come back to play.
Participants were invited to dress in holiday attire and to decorate their instruments. Christmas sweaters abound, some even tuba-themed. Some instruments are carefully covered in wrapping paper, others have tinsel and Christmas lights. It’s a festive gathering.
After rehearsal, we have some time before the concert. The players mingle with each other and catch up, and the conversation ebbs and flows around me with the feeling of community.
Friends and family start arriving for the concert and greet the players they know. Some come in who appear to not know anyone playing—they just wanted to take in the music.
The concert is free, but donations are taken for local food pantries, and the stack of food grows as more people come. It’s heartwarming to see this generosity that’s so much a part of the Christmas season.
When we all gather to perform, I’m inspired by the packed audience who have come to listen. As the first notes ring out from our deep choir, the blend of our many players becomes one sound of melody and harmony. The audience is asked to sing along on the second verse of the carols, and the swell of hundreds of singers joining in is so beautiful to hear. We’re all part of making this music celebrating the joy of Christmas.
After the last notes ring out, it’s time to bid farewell to friends, pack up instruments, and head home from Tuba Christmas, but the beauty of this day will last throughout the Christmas season and the memory will bring us back next year to join in song once again as we celebrate a season and everything behind it.
MARTHA HOFFMAN, is a freelance writer and diversified livestock farmer in rural Earlville.