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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!