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Big Tuba Turnout At This Year’s Tuba Christmas

Tuba Christmas was founded by Harvey Phillips, a Missouri native, more than 30 years ago.  It brings tuba and euphonium players together once a year to play a concert of traditional holiday songs for the season. 

There are more than 200 Tuba Christmas Concerts across the U.S.  This is the fifth year that The Kansas City Symphony hosted Tuba Christmas in KC.As KC Currents intern Zack Lewandowski found out, this concert featuring the biggest brass instrument keeps getting bigger.

At some point or another, you’ve probably heard the doorbell ring, only to be surprised by Christmas carolers. Imagine if you opened the door to 300 tuba players playing the jolly songs of Christmas. Last Thursday and Friday, hundreds of Christmas enthusiasts were treated to a concert at the Kauffman Center for Performing Arts showcasing these very sounds.

Frank Byrne is the Executive Director of the Kansas City Symphony and also a tuba player.  He says the venue has changed over the years due to increased popularity. "When we did it this year we were reacting to the enormous success of last year, our first year in the Kauffman Center, where we had over 600 performers here."

Bryne says, "It was so many performers that we didn't have room for the families and audience members that wanted to hear the performance. So this year we decided that out of self-preservation we would need to limit the number of performers to ensure that we left room for that audience."

Limiting performers meant that Byrne would have to split the performance into two days, so that everyone could play.

"The challenge in part of putting this together is in part logistical because you have hundreds of performers."  Byrne says that, "the other part is the fact that you have players from all different levels, from amateurs to professionals, graduate students everything you could imagine."

Many of the tuba players wore Santa hats and decorated their tubas with Christmas garland. One of the players, Owen Evans says tuba players can be eccentric. "It takes a lot of air and intestinal fortitude, we say, for our band students to play tuba."

Eric Griffin, a teacher at Mission Trail Middle School who was there, sums up the event by saying that for these musicians, it’s a chance to step out of the shadows and into the spotlight. "For student musicians who are learning to play tuba, often times the music we play at a band concert or other performance, the tuba players don't always get the melody," says Griffin. "They are often playing the bass line or other background parts.  So an event like this is really cool for them because they get the melody, or at least a good deal of the time."

People are even adding hundreds of miles to their car’s odometer just for the chance to play one day as part of Kansas City's Tuba Christmas. Frank Byrne says, "We've had people come from as a far as Sioux Falls, South Dakota, a six-hour drive from Kansas City. And I know that there were people from places like Lincoln, Nebraska, and St. Louis. So there are people from all over the region  that choose to come here just for the fun of being part of this."

This story was produced for KC Currents, which airs Sundays at 5pm with a repeat Mondays at 8pm. To listen on your own schedule, subscribe to the KCCurrents podcast.

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