words + photos by Tom Adkinson
Walgreen’s may put up garland and tinsel the day after Halloween, but that and all the other premature signs of Christmas are a flop. Christmas doesn’t reign in my heart until I hear a sanctuary filled with the sound of 130 tubas.
It’s TUBACHRISTMAS, a time when people with big brass instruments converge to toot out deliriously delightful renditions of “Walking in a Winter Wonderland” and solemn and touching versions of “Silent Night.” The assembled spectators sing along. It’s like “Mitch Miller Meets John Philip Sousa.”
TUBACHRISTMAS for me is in Nashville, adding another layer to the city’s well-earned nickname of Music City.
The first TUBACHRISTMAS was in New York in 1974, and Nashville’s began in 1986. It echoed through several acoustically challenged venues before settling at First Baptist Church, where the sound is fine and the pews are comfortable
After the first New York gig, a movement began, and you now can hear TUBACHRISTMAS performances across the nation. You’ll find a list at, you guessed it, www.tubachristmas.com.
A spot check of states for 2010 reveals 12 TUBACHRISTMAS performances in New York, 10 in California and 21 in Texas. There are even enough tuba players in Idaho and North Dakota for three performances and in each state.
All of these performances are a tribute to a William Bell, born on Christmas Day 1902 and acknowledged as America’s premier tuba player and teacher of the 20th Century. He played for John Philip Sousa and Toscanini. The idea is to honor “all great artists/teachers whose legacy has given us high performance standards,” says the TUBACHRISTMAS website.
While anything but a church service, the Nashville TUBACHRISTMAS has an appropriate touch. The Baptists allow a collection to support a weekly meal for the homeless just down the street at Downtown Presbyterian Church, a venue where TUBACHRISTMAS once played.
Nashville’s TUBACHRISTMAS is December 14, but if I want to hear “Santa Wants a Tuba for Christmas” just one more time this year, I can hop a non-stop flight to Dallas for a Christmas Eve show.
Tom Adkinson has worked in travel journalism and travel publicity for almost 40 years as a writer, editor and PR professional. His articles and photos have appeared in publications throughout the U.S. He is a Marco Polo member of the Society of American Travel Writers.