You probably haven’t experienced the true Christmas spirit until you’ve heard “Jingle Bells” and the season’s other famous songs played by an orchestra of tuba and euphonium players.
What is “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” or “Deck the Halls” without an adrenaline-firing dose of um-pah um-pah bass notes? Answer: Half of what it could be.
So consider attending the local TubaChristmas show at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke and St. Paul, 126 Coming St. It’s the 19th edition of the bottom-dwelling holiday concert and it's free.
“I started it here when I got out of the U.S. Army in 1997, and it’s grown to about 80 tuba and euphonium players on stage,” Chris Bluemel, a brass player who runs an instrument repair shop, wrote in an email. “It’s a unique concert opportunity that is presented in cities internationally.”
A lot of cities.
The event was conceived in 1974 by Harvey Phillips to pay homage to his teacher William Bell, a much-admired musician among the tuba community. The first TubaChristmas concert took place at New York City’s Rockefeller Plaza that year, with music arranged by Alec Wilder.
Today, Christmas music enthusiasts can hear the low-end brass players make a ruckus in nearly every state, and also in Canada, Singapore, Costa Rica and Switzerland.
In South Carolina, the franchise has gained a secure foothold in Charleston, Gaffney, Greenville and Newberry.
Triumphant tubists and euphoric euphonists pay a registration fee of $10 and congregate enthusiastically in all these places, armed with a standardized music book, for a rehearsal and performance. They are asked to dress appropriately (“no shorts!”) and “bring (a) music stand and a cloth for water valve discharge.” Nay, we wouldn’t want spittle to coat stages and sanctuary floors. Dangerous.
Bluemel organized his first TubaChristmas in 1995 when he was still in the Army and stationed in Richmond, Va., he said. "That one is still going." When he arrived in Charleston, there was no such thing, so he loosened his lips and made some calls.
The tubists came out of the woodwork, like Orcs in "Lord of the Rings" swarming through the caverns of Middle Earth. OK, that's unfair. Not Orcs. Tubists are gentle souls, patient, modest, accustomed to playing support roles. But what happens when dozens of them convene in one place and get to play melodies?
TubaChristmas is an opportunity for the instrument, to say the least, Bluemel said.
"It brings it a little out of its obscurity, from the back row to the front row," he said.