Happiness is a full house for TubaChristmas

Published 9:57 pm Tuesday, December 4, 2012

To the editor:

TubaChristmas has finally come into its own after 15 years.

Dr. Stanley Howell first brought 40 musicians here in 1998 to play on the courthouse lawn, but rain forced them into Stearns auditorium.

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They later moved to the new Polk County High School, where they played to scant but enthusiastic audiences. More and more people came to hear this unusual aggregation of only the bass and tenor brass as more and more tuba and euphonium players gathered here to kick off our celebration of Christ’s birth.

A full stage of some 70 musicians played this year for a nearly full house, as about a third of the audience raised their hands as first timers. There were people in both balconies this time, as the sonorous music filled the space and thunderous applause greeted each offering. Dr. Howell was in rare form as he acted as master of ceremonies.

In introducing Bach’s Komm, Süsser Tod (“Come, Sweet Death”) Dr. Howell said it was being played in memory of Harvey Phillips, founder of TubaChristmas® in 1974; of Walter Moore, who conducted the first four and some later Columbus concerts; and of Arthur Kramer, who in his 90s still brought his double-bell euphonium and demonstrated it, as well as playing it in the ensemble.

Dr. William Bryant conducted the assembled players and Jean Howell led the audience in singing the carols after the band played them through first. Richard Hall, facilities supervisor at the school, projected the words to the carols on the front wall, managed mikes and lighting, and rolled out the big Steinway for Ellie Roemer to accompany (superbly) the soloists. Kent Dyer of Forest City played O Holy Night on his euphonium as the “annual honor solo,” and P. Blake Cooper as 15th anniversary soloist dedicated his virtuoso tuba performance of White Christmas to his late grandfather, Tryon’s Phil Cooper. Blake also adds his first initial now because it stands for Phillip. I just had to ask P. Blake if he thought he was Bing Crosby . . . he really made that big tuba sing.

Host Cindy Gilbert, band director of the PCHS Cadets, took a turn at the baton, as did Dr. Howell, who “always” leads Jingle Bells. He denies my allegation that he arranged the number, as it includes a theme from Bagley’s National Emblem March thrown in between verses. That little surprise always gets a chuckle from the audience.

Dr. Howell has placed his coordinator mantle upon the capable shoulders of Manfred Walter to make all the arrangements for coming years. Jean says she will no longer lead the singing, but I will be surprised if Stan fails to lead Jingle Bells. Mark the first Saturday in December now, and be there to see and hear for yourself.

– Garland O. Goodwin, Columbus