North Texas Daily

TubaChristmas makes its way to Denton

TubaChristmas makes its way to Denton

TubaChristmas makes its way to Denton
December 03
23:13 2014

Samantha McDonald / Senior Staff Writer

It starts with big, round, bass-like sounds followed by richer tenor tones.

TubaChristmas has finally arrived in North Texas.

Although most people don’t associate brass instruments with the holidays, a Dec. 20 concert aims to change that notion. Tuba, euphonium and baritone players from UNT, Denton and out-of-state will assemble at the Onstead Promenade to perform popular Christmas carols that unite a community through music during this merry season.

In the late 1970s, Dallas became the third city in the country – behind New York and Chicago – to launch its own internationally recognized TubaChristmas concert. Tuba professor Donald Little, who was one of the founding members for TubaChristmas Dallas, began a Texas tradition that has since expanded to Fort Worth and now Denton.

“Part of it is just to show that you can bring the tubas, the euphoniums and the baritones together to really make a nice Christmas concert,” Little said. “It’s not really just a university event. It’s a community event.”

TubaChristmas beginnings

In 1974, Harvey Phillips turned an idea into a legacy. TubaChristmas became the product of a tribute to his close teacher and mentor William Bell, who was born on Christmas Day of 1902.

The first TubaChristmas event was set up at the Rockefeller Plaza Ice Rink in New York City late in the year. Tuba players arrived via fire truck and clad in Santa suits, driving around town with the sound of holiday music reverberating through the streets.

“All the networks were there, and they were expecting to have a big laugh,” euphonium professor Brian Bowman said, referencing the tuba’s bulky appearance and deep notes. “But when they heard the mellow sound of those players, it touched them all.”

The success of that concert helped establish Phillips’ reputation as a crusader for the tuba, which had long been stereotyped to the back of the band. His founding of TubaChristmas essentially altered this image and made it acceptable for the tuba to stand front and center as the only musical instrument at a concert.

When graduate student in tuba performance Casey Nidetch discovered TubaChristmas in 2004, she signed up to perform for that year’s event. She had only recently begun to play the tuba, but after a friend and former student introduced her to Phillips, Nidetch knew her future was written.

“In our little community, he was pretty much the most famous person you could meet,” Nidetch said. “The first year I ever started playing tuba, I went to [TubaChristmas], and it just kind of sticks with you.”

A tradition to be celebrated

Denton’s very own TubaChristmas tradition stemmed from Nidetch’s desire to bring that 2004 Christmas day to UNT as well as the city. After approaching Little, who was one of her professors, they agreed early in the fall that the College of Music would be an excellent host to the first ever TubaChristmas at UNT this winter.

Shortly after Nidetch made the event known to the community, about 25 to 30 people registered their participation for Denton TubaChristmas. Nidetch said she purchased enough merchandise for 100 people as she expects more or less the same number of brass instrument players to show up to play at the concert.

“We all have a similar experience where one person will go and it kind of leaves a lasting impression, then when we move away and we don’t have one, we miss it,” she said. “You try to get that experience as much as you can, so if you can’t find one close, you just make it yourself.”

A plethora of holiday classics will be performed, including “Deck the Halls,” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “Silent Night,” and, what Nidetch calls the special arrangement, “Jingle Bells.” To add to the festivities, tuba players will arrive in bright clothing and instruments decorated with holiday lights, garlands and other ornaments.

The event, which draws in anyone from early high school students to seasoned musicians more than 70 years old, is considered a big deal to tuba and euphonium players around the world for allowing the instruments a place under the spotlight every year, Bowman said.

“It just gives a lot of exposure, and it gives a chance for players of all ages and abilities to get together and fraternize,” Bowman said.

Five days to Christmas

Two hours before the concert, performers will gather at the College of Music to rehearse the Christmas carols. Nidetch said because of the simple nature of the music, tuba and euphonium players don’t necessarily need any more time than an hour or so to practice, particularly at a concert where the primary goal is entertainment, not perfection.

Because of the fun, inviting nature of the event, Little said the performance only deserves to be held outdoors. He said that the show will go on, and if a threat of snow is forecasted, the performers will simply relocate to one of the concert halls at the music building.

“We’ll go rain or shine,” Little said. “About the only thing that could stop us would be if we had one of those major 1-inch-thick ice storms and nobody can get anywhere.”

Concert Conductor and Assistant Director of Wind Studies Nicholas Williams encourages anyone who is in town, especially families with children, to attend the event.

“Sometimes there are special appearances,” he said, hinting at an opportunity to dress the part of an emblematic Christmas figure. “Sometimes Santa makes his way down from the North Pole.”

And although this is only the first year for Denton’s TubaChristmas, those who have experienced it before already consider the concert a tradition even before it starts.

“Once it gets going, it’s like a train,” Williams said. “It’s gonna go until it stops.”

Featured Image: Hundreds of tuba players ring out Christmas music in 2011. Photo courtesy of TubaChristmas 

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