A KringleQuest.commentary


45 Years of TubaChristmas

Boom, booooom, boom-boom, booooom, boom.......

Eclectic? Perhaps.

Off-the-wall? Some might say.

Yet it remains one of the most unusual concepts to emerge from the realms of modern popular music: a gathering of tuba, sousaphone and euphonium players --- volunteers, professionals and non-professionals. They are assembled, their instruments in tow, from all corners of America, from all walks of life, sometimes bringing along several or more family members, or at least, the entire clan --- to celebrate for 45 or more minutes, depending on how frosty the forecast is, the joy of making their favorite Christmas music.

There are just some ideas in this world that you just simply cannot help but love. For 45 seasons, TubaChristmas has been one such idea, a vision celebrated in over 300 cities across the USA and Canada. Its mission: to preserve the legacy of one William J. Bell, tuba teacher and enthusiast, born on Christmas Day, 1902, and forever regarded as the man whose very legacy gave birth not only to TubaChristmas itself, but also to the event's coordinators and keepers, the Bloomington, Indiana-based Harvey Phillips Foundation.

It all began in 1973, when Harvey Phillips, then Distinguished Professor of Music at Indiana University, wanted to give the world an interesting and rather unexpected Christmas present: one that would not only perpetuate William Bell's legacy, but also demonstrate that the tuba was a far more significant musical instrument than people gave it proper credit for. Specifically, Professor Phillips' dream was to assemble an entire orchestra of tuba players underneath the brightly-lit twigs of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. At first, Rockefeller Center executives laughed at the concept, dismissing it as being utterly ridiculous. But when several of New York City's more upstanding musical citizens, most notably Leonard Bernstein, got wind of the good Professor's story, some of those silly Scrooges immediately reconsidered the matter. And so, on December 22nd, 1974, the first TubaChristmas Concert was staged beneath the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.

Almost 50 years later, the Harvey Phillips Foundation continues to coordinate TubaChristmas recitals in some extremely unexpected venues: Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco; CNN Center in Atlanta; Disneyland and Walt Disney World --- and everywhere else in between! Why, the event has even extended its reach beyond North America, expanding to London; Paris; Bavaria in Germany (where, assuming, that you're familiar with Oktoberfest, the tuba is held extremely sacred!); Basel, Switzerland; and even Sydney, Australia!

For some of these 45 years, it has been my pleasure to attend these TubaChristmas recitals live, in the City, and the venue, where it all began. But there would always be those times when I would leave each year's TubaChristmas event with a sense of foreboding: until 2010, I kept on wondering whether these would be the last TubaChristmas recitals to be personally supervised and conducted by Harvey Phillips. It's difficult, after all, to fully appreciate just how powerful an impact TubaChristmas has been, seeing how unkind Time was to this wonderful champion of music. Until his death that October 2010 (Octuba 2010, if you would), he spent his days confined to a wheelchair, no longer physically able to play the instrument he so dearly loved. Yet despite being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, he remained determined to share with the world his constant devotion to the tuba --- and, with it, the incredible magic that only it can provide during this most wonderful time of the season.

Now, I don't wanna get off on a rant here, boys and girls, but, as far as I'm concerned, there's only one word in my book that applies to a man like Harvey Phillips:


Give a man a challenge, they say, and he will go the distance to achieve it, even at the risk of his own life. To me, that qualifies as courage. And Harvey Phillips proved that point time and again with every TubaChristmas Concert he led and attended, regardless of the location. Happily, Carol, Harvey's wife, and Tom, his son, are still with us, and are still just as determined to keep his legacy alive. We here at KQ4 are proud knowing that indeed the Harvey Phillips dream lives on --- because, let's face it, the world will always be filled with eccentrics, those men and women who pursue their dreams because they want to leave the world far better than it was while they were here.... by doing something nice for its people.

And believe me, Harvey Phillips did more than his share of nice things for people. In my particular case, long before I ever founded this website, his efforts on behalf of tuba fans everywhere proved to partially influence my passion for the Great Highland Bagpipe of Scotland: a passion that in the end blossomed into the development of KringleQuest's former sister website, Uncle Fergus' Bagpipers' Paradise!

Today, TubaChristmas remains the second-longest running holiday tradition in the venue's history (#1, of course, being the Tree itself!) The 45-minute show happens on Sunday afternoon, December 9th, 2018. Besides 30 Rock in New York, additional TubaChristmas recitals will be held in Birmingham, AL; Eureka, Fortuna, Monterey and McKinleyville, CA; Boca Raton, FL; Porterdale, GA; Evansville, IN; Oskaloosa, IA; Hays, KS; Ayer and Bernardston, MA; Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and Marquette, MI; Woodstown, NJ; Knoxville and Pulaski, TN; Lubbock, TX; and Alexandria and Leesburg, VA!

For the 2008 show, a record 53 additional cities joined New York in celebrating a rare TubaChristmas Saturday afternoon: Palmer, Matanuska Valley, Alaska; Phoenix, Tempe and Tucson, Arizona; Jonesboro, Arkansas; Sacramento, California; Fort Collins and Grand Junction, Colorado; Clinton, Connecticut; Jacksonville, Orlando and St. Petersburg, Florida; Flossmoor, Naperville and Springfield, Illinois; Santa Claus, Muncie and Vincennes, Indiana; Cedar Rapids, Ottumwa and Mason City, Iowa; Garden City and Manhattan, Kansas; Newport, Kentucky; Battle Creek, Clinton Township, Flint and Muskegan, Michigan; St. Louis, Joplin, Cape Girardeau and Boonville, Missouri; Wolfesboro, New Hampshire; Buffalo and Queensbury, New York; Greensboro, North Carolina; Minot, North Dakota; Cincinnati and Wooster, Ohio; Portland, Oregon; Erie and Stroudsburg, Pennslyvania; Greenvillle and Aiken, South Carolina; Sioux Falls and Aberdeen, South Dakota; Amarillo, Southlake and Paris, Texas; Salt Lake City, Utah; Charleston and Huntington, West Virginia; and Cheyenne, Wyoming! Look for the continuously updating schedule, along with a tribute to Professor Phillips, at TubaChristmas.com.

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