TubaChristmas concert provides a low-down holiday

December 21, 2011|By MARIE GILBERT |
  • Zack Corpus, left, and Keith Alexander will join other tuba players for TubaChristmas, a Christmas Eve performance of holiday music played on instruments in the tuba family.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. — If it sounds like a musical nightmare, think again.

It’s a performance that can be both moving and fun.

Just ask the thousands of people across the country who each year attend TubaChristmas — a holiday program where the trusty brass instrument has a rare solo moment on center stage.

The concerts have become a bit of a national tradition, dating back to 1974 at Rockefeller Center when the first event was held as a tribute to the late William Bell, a premier player and teacher of the tuba, who was born on Christmas Day in 1902.

Since then, TubaChristmas has spread across the country, with more than 250 cities currently offering a performance featuring tubas and their higher-register cousins.

And this year, Shepherdstown, W.Va., joins in on the fun.

The steps of McMurran Hall on the campus of Shepherd University will be the setting on Christmas Eve for TubaChristmas — a unique way of sharing the holiday spirit.

A community effort of groups, individuals and organizations, the event is open to anyone who plays a member of the tuba family, including the sousaphone, baritone horn or euphonium.

And it doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner or have years of experience.

All that’s required, said Kathleen Corpus, assistant professor of family and consumer sciences at Shepherd, is a desire to join in a festive atmosphere.

Corpus, along with Shepherd’s Erik Jones, director of choral and vocal activities, and Keith Alexander, visiting assistant professor of environment and physical sciences, have coordinated what Corpus believes is the first TubaChristmas in Shepherdstown.

“This is the first one of which I could find record,” she said. “However, I have heard from one source that there might have been a similar event many years ago.”

Corpus said she has attended TubaChristmas performances across the country and enjoyed both the music and the goodwill the event brought to communities.

“I began envisioning the quaintness of Shepherdstown in front of Shepherd University’s McMurran Hall as a great background for a TubaChristmas performance,” she said.

Corpus said she approached Alexander, who plays the tuba, to see if he was interested in helping her coordinate the event. His reaction was positive, and he arranged for Jones to be the conductor.

She then contacted the Harvey Phillips Foundation, the nonprofit organization that oversees TubaChristmas, and registered the Shepherdstown event. Phillips was a tuba player who came up with the first TubaChristmas.

Corpus said there has been a positive response from the community, including the public who is excited to hear the concert, and merchants who have posted fliers in their business windows.

“Shepherd University agreed to let us use the steps of McMurran Hall for the performance and Reynolds Hall for rehearsal,” Corpus said. “St. Peter’s Lutheran Church is hosting the player registration and providing refreshments for participants.”

Corpus said the only rehearsal will be on Christmas Eve at 10:30 a.m., following registration at 10 a.m. The performance will be at 1 p.m.

Since this is the first TubaChristmas in Shepherdstown, Corpus isn’t sure how many tuba players will be performing, but “we anticipate middle school, high school, college and professional players both young and old.”

“Players can come from anywhere,” she said. “I know of one tubist who is traveling from Dallas, Texas, and will be participating. We really don’t know who will show up until registration on Christmas Eve.”

Corpus said Kansas City’s TubaChristmas recently attracted more than 600 performing musicians and Juneau, Alaska, had eight musicians.

There is a registration fee of $5, which includes a collectible TubaChristmas 2011 button.

Music in bass and treble clef, arranged by Alec Wilder specifically for TubaChristmas, will be available for purchase at registration, Corpus said. Musicians need to bring their instrument and a music stand.

“All players are welcome and encouraged to decorate their horns for the Christmas season,” she said.

Persons attending the concert can expect to hear many traditional Christmas carols, Corpus said. There also will be audience sing-alongs.

“It’s a great opportunity to ring in Christmas with the warm and rich, organ-like sound of a mass tuba-euphonium choir,” she noted. “One can’t help but smile when they hear Christmas music on the tuba.”

Corpus said the concert is free and open to the public. There will be TubaChristmas hats and scarves available for purchase, which supports the Harvey Phillips Foundation and the promotion of TubaChristmas.

If you go ...        

WHAT: TubaChristmas

WHEN: Register at 10 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 24; practice begins at 10:30 a.m.; performance at 1 p.m.

WHERE: Practice at St. Peter’s Church social hall. Performance at McMurran Hall at Shepherd University, Shepherdstown, W.Va.

COST: Free for audience; registration fee of $5 to perform, which includes a commemorative pin.

CONTACT: Call 620-339-6330 or email

By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer
Zack Corpus, left, and Keith Alexander will join other tuba players for TubaChristmas, a Christmas Eve performance of holiday music played on instruments in the tuba family.

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