The first Tuba Christmas was held in New York City on December 22nd, 1974. The event was organized as a tribute to William Bell, born on Christmas Day in 1902, and one of our profession's most influential teachers and performers. Today, Tuba Christmas gatherings are held all over the nation, and in a few other countries as well.
The McAllen Tuba Christmas is special. Not only is it one of the largest, with participation close to 400 each year, but it makes a concerted effort to bring in students from the entire Rio Grande Valley region of Texas. This was the 22nd year of Tuba Christmas in McAllen. Each year, the sponsors bring in a guest artist. I was honored to be the guest for 2010.
Participants are encouraged to dress themselves and their instruments in festive gear. They even host a contest for the best decorated horn, with the Melhart Music Center in McAllen offering gift cards as prizes.
Coordinator of the McAllen Tuba Christmas, Jim Egger, and his assistant, Daniel Fernandez, are both band directors at McAllen HS. They are responsible for making this great event happen. I was treated so graciously during my stay and I really appreciate all the work they do to create a top-notch experience for all participants.
As I mingled among the crowd, I couldn't resist taking pictures of some of the more memorable decorative jobs. I thought this guy was impressive enough, but he made me re-take my initial picture so that he could turn all of his lights on!
I love the simple lines and feeling of graceful ease that is accomplished with the concept below. Not only was it ridiculously funny, but he could rest the horn on the ground upright with the padding supporting it. It's like the Navy Band euphonium diaper on steroids, or a very stylish euphonium stand. Either way, I like!
The large auditorium stage couldn't possibly hold all those who showed up to play, so the overflow went down to the pit area and all along the sides of the hall, almost to the back. The first few rows of audience seats were also commandeered by excess low-brass. These students are happy to be here. Band directors like this one really went the extra mile to coordinate travel and logistics in order expose their students to this activity. It's a very positive and worthwhile thing.
Okay, this guy gets a standing ovation from me. The detail is continued on all sides of the house. It really shows dedication to the art of low-brass exterior decorating. I don't know if those cookies are homemade, but if so, it would be extra impressive. Yes, he played with that thing on the entire time!
Check out those numbers! Jim Egger is leading the group during the morning rehearsal. It was impossible for me to get a good shot of the entire group, but this gives you a idea of how packed the stage and front area were.
Another favorite was this guy, who actually has a tuba inside this cardboard monstrosity. I don't know if he could see the music at all, but he diligently performed the entire day with this set-up. I like the little santa at the top; it's a nice touch.
Here I am posing with the winners of the decorating contest. There were so many good entries. I'll post my complete photo album soon with more hilarious shots.
After morning rehearsals (and a superb lunch of botanas at a Casa Mesa for me), we reconvened in the afternoon for the performance. You can start to see the audience filling the place up here. It was a great crowd. Apparently, this concert is always packed. Impressively, the majority of this audience raised their hands to say this was their first Tuba Christmas! How great that they can bring in so many new listeners, year after year.
After the large group played several selections, I was introduced and invited on stage to play Away in a Manger. My friend Mando took a few videos on his phone. It's not the complete performance, but gives you a good idea of the sound. Some of my phrases sound pretty short; trying to project over that many tubas and euphoniums is an interesting exercise in blowing.
Here's a shot from backstage. It was funny to see the stage so full of people. I don't know how many rows deep it went, and I really don't know how they got in and out of their seats.
Next, I took the podium to conduct Angels We Have Heard on High. I wasn't really sure how to make my gestures clear to that many people, who were spread out behind me and all down the sides of the hall. Seeing the video afterwards is kind of hilarious to me. I'm surprised I didn't flap away! Enjoy.
After conducting, I took the mic to talk a little about US Army Bands. I was asked to perform a brief unaccompanied selection to give the audience an idea of what the euphonium could sound like, and also entertain the kids. I played selections from different parts of Philip Sparke's Harlequin, and then closed with a fun arrangement of Blackbird by Lars Holmgaard. After my solo portion, I went down to the front and joined the Director's Ensemble. This smaller group opened with a great arrangement by Director Robbie Hochstetler, and then I soloed on Greensleeves.
The crowd was a hoot and very enthusiastic. While taking pictures from the back of the hall, I captured this little girl in a proud moment.
The day ended with a rousing rendition of We Wish You a Tuba Christmas. I had such a good time getting to know the people down here, and I can't wait to visit again. Of course, I had to pose for a farewell picture with the McHi Bulldog.
This was a fabulous event, and I am very grateful to The US Army Field Band, US Army Bands, and McAllen Tuba Christmas, who all made it possible for me to participate. I also want to thank Dr. Scott Roeder and his wife, Sonia, for being such great hosts the entire weekend. Soon, I was on a plane back to chilly Baltimore, Just in time for local caroling with FBI and one last Sound the Bells Holiday Concert. If you live in the area, come on out to Edgewater, MD this Friday!