Photo by Michael Buckelew
PORTERDALE -- Records were broken in every category Dec. 12 at the TUBACHRISTMAS gathering in Porterdale. Snow flurries made 2010 the first White TUBACHRISTMAS.
Forty-one tuba players filled the main stage, spilled onto the lower stage and even onto the ground. Participation is on the upswing -- the 2009 inaugural event drew 29 players.
Tuba players in festive attire and outrageous hats performed on tubas decorated with tinsel, bows and flashing lights. The concert began with a rousing rendition of "Jingle Bells" that incorporated strains of John Phillip Sousa. Christmas carols -- sacred and secular, inspirational and fun -- followed. The enthusiastic crowd joined in singing.
TUBACHRISTMAS is a nationwide event that takes place in cities around the country; a gathering of tuba and euphonium players that celebrates both the season and their instrument. This year, TUBACHRISTMAS was celebrated in more than 200 cities. According to local coordinator Lowell Chambers, Porterdale is well on its way to achieving its stated goal of becoming the pre-eminent TUBACHRISTMAS event in Georgia.
"Porterdale has a long history. This town has hosted Jack Dempsey and the Harlem Globetrotters, but I don't think there has ever been an occasion when 41 tuba players joined forces to serenade our citizens," Chambers said.
Nationally, this is the 37th year for TUBACHRISTMAS, an opportunity for tuba players to meet each other, share their common interest and play together in a light-hearted festival atmosphere. It is open to all levels of players, from professional musicians to middle school beginners. Porterdale welcomed representatives of several colleges and universities; community groups as diverse as the Callanwolde Fine Arts Center and the Seed & Feed Marching Abominable; and many local high school and middle school bands.
The event drew participants from across the Atlanta area and from across the state. Those who traveled from Haralson County on the Alabama line may have thought that they would win the award for the greatest distance traveled, but they couldn't beat 7,000 miles claimed by Benjamin Smolka, a high school foreign exchange student from Berlin.
Another record setter was the youngest player, a 10-year-old whose euphonium career spans just 3 months. His youth and inexperience didn't dissuade him from insisting that his father drive him down from Gainesville so that he could be part of Porterdale TUBACHRSITMAS. The oldest players were not identified, but there were several who had been playing for nearly half a century.
Alan Fowler, band director at Eastside High School, was the conductor for the Porterdale event. Dan Ragsdale led the singing. At the climax of the festivities, a bearded visitor in red arrived and joined in with several local tuba players in a swinging performance of "Santa Wants a Tuba for Christmas."
Organizers are already thinking ahead to next year's event. The schedule is not yet set, but it's likely that the Third Annual Porterdale TUBACHRISTMAS will be a Sunday afternoon in mid-December 2011. They encourage tuba player to mark their calendars now.