A brass invasion

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Tuba Christmas grows in third year

Tuba Christmas is going digital. Austin’s third annual Tuba Christmas attracted a record number of performers and a large crowd to Oak Park Mall Saturday, but there’s another chance for those who missed the free brass-only holiday concert.

For the first time, the show was recorded after multiple people at area nursing homes requested CDs or additional performances.

“They’ve contacted me since we started to see if we had some people who could play at the nursing homes or if we had a CD and we didn’t,” said Valerie Pitzen, one of the people who helped first bring Tuba Christmas to Austin.

Davin Alan recorded the event and will have DVDs of the performance available by the week of Dec. 18. The videos are for sale for $10, and people can get a copy by contacting Pitzen at 507-433-1881. A few complementary copies will be delivered to area nursing homes.

“It’s a novel thing that’s been going on that’s really quite fun and brings the spirit of Christmas to folks here,” Alan said. Alan has worked in digital marketing and communications for companies like Hormel Foods Corp. and he now works for Bosch Corp. He also has a freelance company called Dalan Productions.

The spirit of Christmas had a few more tubas behind it this year. Forty-one performers ranging from age 11 to 85 turned out to play 13 Christmas carols in the mall’s center court. That’s up from 28 performers last year, and 15 in 2010.

The tubas also drew quite the crowd, as all the seats set up for the free show were filled and many more people stood to watch, filling much of the center court’s southern end. More people listened from the food court tables.

The tubas also saw new faces taking the baton, as Jane Orvick, who conducted the first two years, was unavailable.

Austin High School band director Brad Mariska conducted most of the songs, and Hayfield High School band director Dennis Conroy also conducted a few tunes. Both played when the other was conducting.

Mariska was excited to see the tubas have their day on center stage.

“They’re always the most important instrument in the band, but sometimes they don’t get the glory,” Mariska said.

Low brass instruments — tubas, baritones, euphoniums and suzaphones — are often referred to as the backbone of the band, as they carry the bass line and tempo. However, they rarely take the reins for the melody.

Pitzen said the event is unusual because the low brass final gets to play the main parts.

“People just don’t understand what a quality sound tubas and baritones have when they get to go free,” she said.

This year marked the 39th anniversary of Tuba Christmas nationwide. The event began in 1974 with a performance in New York City’s Rockefeller Plaza.

Organizers are already looking ahead to Tuba Christmas 2013. The first-ever Austin Tuba Christmas video will also be put to good uses in the future to bring more players and people out next year.

“We’re probably going to make a PSA announcement for next year,” Alan said.

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