In a holiday world where trumpets and hand bells reign supreme, it’s about time tubas and euphoniums get their due.
And they will Dec. 21 when TubaChristmas returns to Times Square on Fifth Avenue in Zephyrhills.
The low brass instrumentalists will perform Christmas favorites from the gazebo, made up of players both locally and regionally. And all of them will play together as a single unit for the first time, just hours after their one and only practice.
That just adds to the fun, said John Wheeler, a longtime TubaChristmas performer, who is organizing the Zephyrhills event for the seventh year.
“They tend to be musicians who have a good time,” Wheeler said. “They are low-key, and this is a bit of a come-as-you-are party.”
TubaChristmas has performances all over the country, each performance never conflicting with others so that players can attend as many as they want. In fact, some of the 25 or so musicians that show up for the Zephyrhills event have already done other events, like one last week in Lakeland.
And anyone with a tuba or euphonium, and a $10 registration fee, can join in. Those who would like to watch need only show up with lawn chairs at 7 p.m. to get a free one-hour show.
“The tubas and euphoniums are the lower brass instruments in the band, and it is a mellow rumbling sound that you get from it,” Wheeler said. “It gives people a chance to sing along.”
Euphoniums, which have a sound that’s a step higher than tubas, typically take on the melodic parts. And without the rest of the higher-pitch instruments, it gives these players — usually relegated to the background — a chance to stand out.
“You usually get buried by everybody else, and this is the one chance that we get to star,” Wheeler said.
The rehearsal for this performance will begin at 2 p.m. at First United Methodist Church, 38635 Fifth Ave. Players not only get a chance to perform for the community, but they also receive a commemorative TubaChristmas button honoring their participation in the event.
The performers are all ages, and some of them even come from the local high schools, Wheeler said.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity, especially for the younger generations,” he said. “No one is judging them on playing right or wrong notes.”
Some players might just stay local, but others travel quite a bit.
“We have players from all over who’ll participate, and one time we had a guy who showed me on a back of an envelope where he had recorded the dates that he played in TubaChristmases all over the country that year,” Wheeler said. “He attended 84 of them.”
Because players can wait right up until the same-day practice to show up, Wheeler does admit as an organizer it can be a little frightening wondering if enough players will show up to play. The Zephyrhills event, however, has really taken root in the town over the last several years, which means only a little stress for Wheeler leading up to the concert.
“I lost a little sleep the first time out,” he said.
Wheeler has performed with TubaChristmas for 28 years, getting his start in New Hampshire and other parts of New England.
“I remember playing once in Maine with the snowflakes coming down and the valves (on his instrument) tend to freeze up,” he said. “We’re in Florida now, so we don’t have to worry about it. I’ve had the pleasure of playing in a variety of instances, and Zephyrhills is the most enjoyable one.”
For more information, call John Wheeler at (813) 788-7408.
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