Three hundred thirty-eight tuba players of all ages and all skill sets from across the country gathered under the world’s most famous Christmas tree in Rockefeller Plaza for the annual TubaChristmas event on Sunday, filling the air with popular holiday carols and spreading seasonal cheer.
The unique holiday tradition, created by tube virtuoso Harvey Philips in honor of his teacher William J. Bell, is celebrating its 50th year. It is held in over 200 cities worldwide every December -though the Rockefeller Center performance, where TubaChristmas started, is still considered the most spectacular.
Michael Salzman is the coordinator and master of ceremonies of the low brass concert at Rockefeller Center. He has participated in TubaChristmas since 1975 and was thrilled to be celebrating the choir’s 50th year at Rockefeller Center.
“I missed the first one in 1974. I didn’t know about it, but I haven’t missed one since,” Salzman said. “We come here every year to show the public how beautiful the sound of the tuba is. And we bring this beautiful tuba choir to Rockefeller Center here under the world’s most beautiful Christmas tree year after year.”
Even the rainy weather didn’t damper the spirit of the low-brass players who came from as far as Washington State to play under the direction of conductor Chris Wilham of the New Jersey Wind Symphony and former conductor of the famous Goldman Memorial Band.
Tuba player William Johnson from Grand Rapids, Michigan, already has over 20 TubaChristmas events under his belt, but it was his first time playing in New York City.
Johnson shared that he has coordinated two TubaChristmas events in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He enjoyed the camaraderie among the bass horn players and making music with strangers.
“Most of us have never seen each other before, and we come together and bring Christmas cheer to all of our audience and ourselves,” Johnson said.
Johnson explained that the players rehearse the songs for about an hour before they showcase their talent to the public.
“I think we sound wonderful,” Johnson said.
The concert was a family affair for mother-daughter duo Emily Kluga and 12-year-old Linden Kluga Glickman from Shrub Oak, New York. It was the first time the high school band director participated in the event with Linden, who has been playing the tuba for three years.
“It’s a great mom-and-daughter thing to do together for the holidays,” Kluga said.
Among the spectators enjoying the free event was Mary Jones from Streamwood, Illinois. Jones was braving the rain to see her niece Mary, who has played in several TubaChristmas events in Columbus, Ohio, and Muncie, Indiana.
“I’m excited,” Jones said. “I’ve seen TubaChristmas in Chicago and outside of Chicago. But it’s my first time here. [The weather] could be a little bit nicer, but we’re in the front, so that’s a good thing.”