Sunday marks the date of the Inaugural Porterdale Tubachristmas, a gathering of tuba and euphonium (a smaller, higher pitched version of a tuba) players to celebrate both the season and their oft misunderstood instruments.
Tubachristmas is a nationwide event that takes place between Thanksgiving and Christmas in cities around the country. This year, Tubachristmas will be celebrated in more than 200 cities, in nearly every state, and has even spread internationally with events in Canada and Switzerland.
The first Tubachristmas was held in New York City’s Rockefeller Plaza Ice Rink on Dec. 22, 1974. It was conceived as a tribute to the late artist/teacher William J. Bell, who was born on Christmas Day, 1902. Traditional Christmas music performed at the first Tubachristmas and at every Tubachristmas since was arranged by American composer Alec Wilder who ironically died on Christmas Eve 1980. Since its inception, Tubachristmas has spread to communities large and small.
Tubachristmas is open to all levels of players, from professional musicians to middle school beginners. For many, it has become a tradition. Some players have participated for 20 years or more and wear the souvenir buttons to prove it. It’s an opportunity for tuba players to meet each other and share their common interest in a light-hearted festival atmosphere. Many players decorate their instruments with ribbons and bows or Christmas ornaments. The official fashion is the Tubachristmas stocking hat (available in red, blue and green) with a large white pompom on top.
Porterdale is one of six Georgia cites holding events in 2009. Well established Tubachristmas events in Atlanta and Savannah draw players from a wide area. Underground Atlanta’s event usually involves more than 300 tubas, but this year attendance was down to a mere 200. Tubachristmas has been a standard field trip for many school bands. However, this year school systems are facing funding shortages and have limited field trips.
"Since local bands can’t take a school bus to Atlanta on a weekday, we’re hoping that individual band members will come out with their families for a Sunday afternoon concert in Porterdale," said coordinator and Porterdale councilman Lowell Chambers. "We are hoping that Underground Atlanta’s loss is Porterdale’s gain."
"We really don’t know how many to expect this first year. It could range from 16 to 60. Only time will tell. However, downtown Porterdale with its small town atmosphere and intimate plaza is an ideal venue for Tubachristmas. If we have enthusiastic audience participation, Porterdale could become the preeminent Tubachristmas event in Georgia."
Alan Fowler, band director at Eastside High School, will be the conductor for the Porterdale event. Dan Ragsdale will lead the audience in singing Christmas carols accompanied by the tuba choir. A special treat will be a performance of "Santa Wants a Tuba for Christmas" featuring Ragsdale as vocalist and Fowler as solo tubaist. They will be accompanied by a tuba/euphonium quartet of local players.
Participating players should register at Porterdale City Hall between noon and 1 p.m. Sunday. A rehearsal will be held from 1 p.m. until 2 p.m. when the performance begins in Porterdale Memorial Plaza, or as locals know it, the alley.
The concert is free to the public but there is a $5 registration fee for players. All participants will receive the 2009 Tubachristmas souvenir button. Past participants in Tubachristmas should bring their carol books. First time participants may purchase books of carols at registration. Tubachristmas stocking caps will also be available, but the supply is limited so you may want to come early.
"Come out and join the fun," Chambers said. "This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. You want to be able to tell your grandchildren that you witnessed the first ever Tubachristmas-Porterdale."