August 23, 2014

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TOTALLY TUBA: Instrument gets its due at holiday concert

LORAIN — The distinctive sound echoed down Broadway in Lorain on Saturday, and even before stepping into the Palace Theatre, the audience knew what to expect from the 12th annual TubaChristmas.

STEVE MANHEIM/CHRONICLE
Some players at the TubaChristmas concert in Lorain decked their instruments with holiday decorations.

And it was not disappointed. Between handsful of popcorn, the audience would sing along with traditional Christmas carols — with a twist. As the title suggests, the holiday tunes were performed solely by 112 tuba players — often considered the backup and supporting brass in symphonies.

But at this show, the tubas took over the stage. Indeed, sometimes the Palace stage seemed to buckle under the weight of the thunderous orchestra. Adding to the weight strain was the fact that many of the instruments were decked with Christmas decorations, wreaths and lights that caught the eye when the lights were dimmed.

“Most people, when they think of tubas, they think of marching bands,” conductor and emcee Dale Hildebrand said. “Or, God forbid, polka music.”

But not here. The brass ensemble of tubists young and old — from 11 to 75 — who came from distances near (local high schools) and far (Florida) played with brawny force. At least one tuba from 1845 predated the Civil War, and sometimes the ensemble left the audience searching for the treble dial.

From standards such as “Jingle Bells” and “Silent Night” to more obscure numbers like “The Holly and the Ivy” and “Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming,” the carols pleased the crowd. And in keeping with the holiday spirit, Hildebrand encouraged the audience to sing along.

“If you don’t know the words, just say ‘la,’ ” Hildebrand, a Brookside High band conductor for 17 years, said. “If you can’t be good, be loud.”

With more than a little prodding, the audience did their part — eventually.

“Come on, I need some support,” Hildebrand said. “Make the chandelier shake. I feel like I’m teaching,” he said.

Hildebrand couldn’t resist imparting a lesson or two to the audience. The event, he said, was started by Harvey Phillips,  a professor of tuba at Indiana University, for his own teacher, William Bell. Bell, Hildebrand said, was largely responsible for bringing the tuba from the background to the forefront.

The Lorain TubaChristmas is part of a larger tradition. TubaChristmas concerts are performed across the country and, as it was last year, even in Iraq. Ohio has the second-most performances, trailing only Texas, according to Hildebrand.

Hildebrand also explained that the tuba’s family tree is a bit broader than some may think.

“There are really four different instruments in the tuba family,” he said. “The concert tuba (with a bell the points straight up), the sousaphone (named for composer John Philip Sousa), the euphonium, and the baritone (which Hidebrand described as looking like a “pregnant trumpet”).

After the TubaChristmas band played its last song, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,”  the audience exited the theater and was greeted by heavy sheets of snow.

So for this year at least, it was a white TubaChristmas.

Contact Michael Baker at 329-7141 or mbaker@chroniclet.com.