Big Brass Honks at the Holidays in Ayer
AYER -- It was a not-so silent afternoon at the Ayer Town Hall on Sunday.
Nearly 30 tuba players from all around New England came together to honor a tradition that has been celebrated for decades worldwide.
Tuba Christmas is a performance featuring traditional Christmas music specifically arranged for the titular brass instrument. The event was conceived almost 45 years ago by Harvey Phillips. Phillips, dubbed Distinguished Professor of Music Emeritus at the Indiana University School of Music, sought to pay tribute to his mentor and teacher, William J. Bell (interestingly enough, Bell was born on Christmas Day, 1902).
Sunday’s performance, conducted by Tom Reynolds, consisted of 34 classic holiday pieces. Among the tunes were “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” and “The Little Drummer Boy.”
Players were encouraged to dress as festively as possible; some even went so far as to decorate their instruments.
Reynolds is proud to be a part of a group that has aimed to bring holiday cheer with an instrument that isn’t in the spotlight very often.
“I started working with this group about 19 years ago when I taught at the Bromfield School in Harvard,” says Reynolds, a Massachusetts native and UMass Amherst professor. “Because I was the local band director, John Breyer (who organized Tuba Christmas) asked me to come over and conduct it. That’s how it got started, and this will be my 19th year with it.”
The very first Tuba Christmas was celebrated on Dec. 22, 1974 in New York City’s Rockefeller Ice Rink. Music for this performance was arranged by American composer Alec Wilder (who passed away on Christmas Eve, 1980).
“Sometimes it’s not easy to keep the momentum going from year to the next, but we’ve been very lucky here at Ayer,” says Reynolds. “While the one in Ayer has never had a big group, we have had the right combination of people to make it sound really good.”
All of the pieces performed on Sunday are Wilder’s original arrangements. In keeping Wilder’s and Bell’s legacy alive in such a way, Tuba Christmas reflects on musical heritage and celebrates the great artists and teachers who have blessed their students with exceptional taste and impeccable talent. Tuba players express their respect and gratitude to the composers who aim to bring the Tuba out of the background and into the spotlight.
Reynolds expressed that Sunday’s concert aimed to demonstrate the full capacity of an instrument that is often overlooked in the orchestra.
“I hope the audience learns something about these instruments, and that they discover these instruments can be melodic instruments, maybe give them something new that they haven’t heard before.”