© 2023 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Once Again, The Kansas City Symphony Lets Tubas Take Over Christmas

Eric Williams
Kansas City Symphony

It’s not often that tuba players get to be the ones on melody.

That changes once a year, though, when the Kansas City Symphony puts on Tuba Christmas, where hundreds of tuba players from all around the metro gather to play traditional holiday songs. Because of popular demand, there are now two Tuba Christmases.

It's Friday, Dec. 5, and hundreds of people are in line waiting for the doors of Helzberg Hall to open. They're waiting to see what it sounds like when 380 tubas play their favorite Christmas songs.

Frank Byrne, the executive director of the Kansas City Symphony, is master of ceremonies — and one of the players. He’s wearing a tuba tie, and he seems almost giddy.

"It’s fun to not only be the emcee of the event, but also perform and show my solidarity with everyone on stage and let them know that this event is for everyone," Byrne says. "We have performers on stage today from 10 years old to two 80 years olds on stage and everybody in between. So I’m just happy among the group and help support a great community event."

Caitlyn Reynolds of Louisburg, Kan. has only been playing tuba for about six months. She’s really a trumpet player, but when some of the sousaphones at her school quit, she stepped up. There’s a contest for the best-decorated tuba, and she’s this year’s winner.

Credit Eric Williams / Kansas City Symphony
Kansas City Symphony
Caitlyn Reynolds of Louisburg, Kansas, won this year's contest for best-decorated tuba.

"Mainly it’s lights," she says of the decorations, "which are actually lights I used for an event called the Electric Light Band Show in Louisburg, where you decorate yourself with lights and we do our marching show in the dark. So these are my lights from that, and my mom actually bought this bow to add the icing on the cake.”

Inside, Caitlyn and her lit-up tuba get lost in the expanse of shiny brass. When you have nearly 400 tuba players, they fill the Helzberg stage, and the choral loft behind the stage, and two sections of the seats up to the right and left.

Conducting is Scott Watson, a professor of tuba-euphonium at the University of Kansas. They play two verses of every song, and the second time around, Frank Byrne encourages the audience to sing along. It’s hard to hear the people, though – and really, the people just want to hear the tubas.

"People love the tuba because it is the foundation of the ensemble," Byrne says. "It helps to provide the basis which everyone else tunes to in the ensemble. And it’s fun to play the tuba. As you can see, there is not a clarinet Christmas. There is not a bassoon Christmas or a trumpet Christmas but there is a tuba Christmas. There’s not a violin Christmas."

Frank Byrne might regret those words when he faces the rest of the Kansas City Symphony, but today, it’s the tubas’ turn.

Credit Eric Williams / Kansas City Symphony
Kansas City Symphony
This year, 380 performers registered for Tuba Christmas on Friday, Dec. 5, with another 320 performers registered for Monday, Dec.8.

A free press is among our country’s founding principles and most precious resources. As director of content-journalism at KCUR, I want everyone in our part of America to know we see them and we’re listening. I work to make sure the stories we tell and the conversations we convene reflect our complex realities, informing and inspiring all of us to meet the profound challenges of our time. Email me at cj@kcur.org.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and powerful storytelling.
Your donation helps make nonprofit journalism available for everyone.