Tuba Mirum: A Venerable Tradition for That Not-So-Silent Night

 

Earlier this December, Kansas City set a new Guinness world record for the largest tuba ensemble — 835 tubas (and euphoniums — they count, too) playing “Silent Night” at the Municipal Arena at Municipal Auditorium. The Kansas City Symphony had decided to host a TubaChristmas — and they wanted to make it a big one, for a really loud “Silent Night”.

TubaChristmas is a tradition that got its start on Dec 22, 1974, on the ice rink of NYC’s Rockefeller Center — because whenever you think of the best place to put a massive number of unwieldy brass instruments, of course you think of an ice rink. TubaChristmas still has a few years to go before reaching its 50th anniversary, so age-wise, it’s not that venerable. Still, there’s majesty in a tradition of large, deep-voiced conical-bore brasses coming together year after year in order to play Christmas carols.

Participants in TubaChristmas, wherever they are, all play from the same book of carols. A kinsman of mine, not trained in conducting, but a musical jack-of-all-trades, conducts a small TubaChristmas yearly in his hometown. There are a few other instruments besides euphoniums (euphonia?) allowed among the tubas. Baritones, a few more obscure instruments such as helicon, serpent, and the splendidly named ophicleide.

Sousaphones are also allowed, if not always welcome (at least at smaller gatherings) on account of how the sousaphone’s forward-facing bell aggressively projects its sound over other instruments, even other Big Brasses. I don’t know if anyone’s ever brought a Wagner tuba to TubaChristmas, but it’s got a conical bore, and it’s no pixie, so I don’t see why not. Slide trombones are definitely out, though — you’ve gotta draw the line somewhere.

Is TubaChristmas the stuff of angel choirs? Perhaps not, but then again, perhaps. There never has been much agreement on what kind of brass instruments, exactly, angels play. According to the Luther Bible, they might even be trombones! But for us mere mortals, there will always be TubaChristmas.

Have a not-so-silent night!

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There are 26 comments.

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  1. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Too bad it was such a small gathering.

    • #1
  2. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    Making a joyful sound at Christmastide.

    This conversation is part of our Group Writing Series under December’s theme of Veneration. There are plenty of dates still available. Have you had an encounter with a saint, or someone who is truly venerable? Is there a sports figure who you believe is venerated, and what do you think of it? What is venerated in our society today? We have some wonderful photo essays on Ricochet; perhaps you have a story to tell about nature, art, or architecture that points to subjects worth venerating. Have we lost the musical, written, visual language of veneration? The possibilities are endless! Why not start a conversation? Our schedule and sign-up sheet awaits. As a heads-up, our January theme will be Renovation. I’ll post the sign-up sheet mid-month.

    • #2
  3. OkieSailor Member
    OkieSailor
    @OkieSailor

    Everythins up to date in Kansas City. They’ve gone about as fur as they can go.

    • #3
  4. Paul Erickson Inactive
    Paul Erickson
    @PaulErickson

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: I don’t know if anyone’s ever brought a Wagner tuba to TubaChristmas

    No, Wagner tubas are generally classified with the horns, which also have conical bore. Then you’d have to let in the horn players, which would spoil the fun.

    Trombones, BTW, have cylindrical bore.  They’re more comical than conical.

    I was invited to a similar convocation (con-blo-cation?) of horn players last month.  I think they called it “Hornucopia.”  But I did not go.  Avoid excess in all things.

    Finally, for those who think 835 tubas is too much, imagine 835 piccolos.  Or 835 accordions.  Even 8 accordions.

    • #4
  5. Paul Erickson Inactive
    Paul Erickson
    @PaulErickson
    1. Where did they put all their cases?
    2. Was this picked up on any seismographs?
    3. Is it true that they moved this to KC because the NYC transit system could not handle this many tuba players carrying their instruments to the same place at the same time?
    • #5
  6. Vectorman Inactive
    Vectorman
    @Vectorman

    Paul Erickson (View Comment):
    No, Wagner tubas are generally classified with the horns, which also have conical bore. Then you’d have to let in the horn players, which would spoil the fun.

    True. And they are primarily used in Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, as shown below:

    This London Symphony recording shows two Wagner Tubas in the horn section.

    • #6
  7. Paul Erickson Inactive
    Paul Erickson
    @PaulErickson

    Vectorman (View Comment):
    ThatcherVectorman  

    Paul Erickson (View Comment):
    No, Wagner tubas are generally classified with the horns, which also have conical bore. Then you’d have to let in the horn players, which would spoil the fun.

    True. And they are primarily used in Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, as shown below:

    Well, and also by Wagner . . .

    • #7
  8. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Paul Erickson (View Comment):
    Trombones, BTW, have cylindrical bore. They’re more comical than conical.

    You know, I thought so, too. But as I was dashing this off, I thought to myself, “Self, you know what they say about assuming and making an ass of yourself — you’d better check before calling trombone bores cylindrical.”

    Unfortunately, I never heard a clever mnemonic for when speed-reading stuff at the last minute causes you to make an ass of yourself, too.

    Thanks for correcting my false self-correction. I’ve revised accordingly. Shoulda gone with my gut ;-P

    • #8
  9. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    We never let euphoniums or baritones into our gang.

    • #9
  10. Amy Schley Moderator
    Amy Schley
    @AmySchley

    Paul Erickson (View Comment):
    Where did they put all their cases?

     I’ll ask my tuba playing friend and now high school band director who took his tuba section. 

    • #10
  11. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    Amy Schley (View Comment):

    Paul Erickson (View Comment):
    Where did they put all their cases?

    I’ll ask my tuba playing friend and now high school band director who took his tuba section.

    I’ve never actually seen a tuba case.  Or a sousaphone case.

    • #11
  12. Amy Schley Moderator
    Amy Schley
    @AmySchley

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Amy Schley (View Comment):

    Paul Erickson (View Comment):
    Where did they put all their cases?

    I’ll ask my tuba playing friend and now high school band director who took his tuba section.

    I’ve never actually seen a tuba case. Or a sousaphone case.

    Never seen a sousaphone case … I’m not sure they really exist. Tubas have cases you can hide small children in. 

    • #12
  13. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    Amy Schley (View Comment):

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Amy Schley (View Comment):

    Paul Erickson (View Comment):
    Where did they put all their cases?

    I’ll ask my tuba playing friend and now high school band director who took his tuba section.

    I’ve never actually seen a tuba case. Or a sousaphone case.

    Never seen a sousaphone case … I’m not sure they really exist. Tubas have cases you can hide small children in.

    I played from seventh grade on, school owned instruments.  They never bought cases.

    • #13
  14. Vectorman Inactive
    Vectorman
    @Vectorman

    Amy Schley (View Comment):
    Never seen a sousaphone case … I’m not sure they really exist.

    We used them all the time in Marching Band. The bell comes off and the rest of the Sousaphone curls around the bell. The case was a relatively stiff plastic with reinforcements at the corners, and weighed less than 4 pounds:

    • #14
  15. Songwriter Inactive
    Songwriter
    @user_19450

    There are no music nerds like band nerds.  And no band nerds like tuba nerds. I love ’em.

    • #15
  16. Vectorman Inactive
    Vectorman
    @Vectorman

    Songwriter (View Comment):

    There are no music nerds like band nerds. And no band nerds like tuba nerds. I love ’em.

    • #16
  17. Matt Balzer, Straw Bootlegger Member
    Matt Balzer, Straw Bootlegger
    @MattBalzer

    Vectorman (View Comment):

    Amy Schley (View Comment):
    Never seen a sousaphone case … I’m not sure they really exist.

    We used them all the time in Marching Band. The bell comes off and the rest of the Sousaphone curls around the bell. The case was a relatively stiff plastic with reinforcements at the corners, and weighed less than 4 pounds:

    I’m glad someone else had this information so I didn’t have to make sure my memory was correct.

    • #17
  18. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: and they wanted to make it a big one, for a really loud “Silent Night”.

    Loud? I suppose. I find Silent Night to be tolerable with an upbeat tempo. Usually it’s way too slow.

    • #18
  19. SkipSul Inactive
    SkipSul
    @skipsul

    Paul Erickson (View Comment):
    Finally, for those who think 835 tubas is too much, imagine 835 piccolos. Or 835 accordions. Even 8 accordions.

    • #19
  20. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    My son borrowed a euphonium to play in Tuba Christmas again this year. Here’s some Tuba “O Holy Night”:

    • #20
  21. Paul Erickson Inactive
    Paul Erickson
    @PaulErickson

    SkipSul (View Comment):

    Paul Erickson (View Comment):
    Finally, for those who think 835 tubas is too much, imagine 835 piccolos. Or 835 accordions. Even 8 accordions.

    Isn’t the depiction of torture against the CoC?

    • #21
  22. Paul Erickson Inactive
    Paul Erickson
    @PaulErickson

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: and they wanted to make it a big one, for a really loud “Silent Night”.

    Loud? I suppose. I find Silent Night to be tolerable with an upbeat tempo. Usually it’s way too slow.

    Then this is for you,  @thereticulator.  I think you’ll like this version.

    But not the Mannheim Steamroller version.  We did an orchestral arrangement of this last week.  I asked the 2nd horn player to make sure I stayed awake to the end.  It ends with the percussion section playing sleigh bells (you won’t hear that in the original.)  Just awful.

    • #22
  23. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Paul Erickson (View Comment):
    Then this is for you, @thereticulator. I think you’ll like this version.

    Yes, that’s a good tempo. Thanks!

    • #23
  24. Full Size Tabby Member
    Full Size Tabby
    @FullSizeTabby

    For several years I went listen to Tuba Christmas in a now-demolished shopping center in Rochester, NY. The sound was spectacular as all that low brass sound reverberated around the hard tile and concrete in such a large space, and the floors vibrated. 

     

    • #24
  25. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: and they wanted to make it a big one, for a really loud “Silent Night”.

    Loud? I suppose.

    As @fullsizetabby said,

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):
    For several years I went listen to Tuba Christmas in a now-demolished shopping center in Rochester, NY. The sound was spectacular as all that low brass sound reverberated around the hard tile and concrete in such a large space, and the floors vibrated. 

    My TubaChristmas kinsman gave me the inside scoop on the following:

    I find Silent Night to be tolerable with an upbeat tempo. Usually it’s way too slow.

    In order to make the World Record, all those instruments had to be judged to be playing sufficiently together for at least five minutes. Since TubaChristmas really does accept all comers armed with a qualifying horn and even rudimentary skill at playing it, they had to pick a simple arrangement in order to be sufficiently together, and play it slow enough to stretch it out to at least five minutes.

    • #25
  26. Steven Seward Member
    Steven Seward
    @StevenSeward

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    Earlier this December, Kansas City set a new Guinness world record for the largest tuba ensemble — 835 tubas (and euphoniums — they count, too) playing “Silent Night” at the Municipal Arena at Municipal Auditorium.

    And why is this a good thing?

    • #26

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