Brass tactics for the season
Susan Sharbaugh of Erving was one of 16 tubas for the 18th annual Tuba Chritmas held at Trinity Churchin Shelburne Falls on Sunday. "It's like a choir of voices, a pure, rich harmony," said Stephen Babineau of conducting only tubas. Photo by Beth Reynolds
Stephen Babineau conducts the 18th annual Tuba Christmas held at Trinity Church Sunday in Shelburne Falls. "It's like a choir of voices, a pure, rich harmony," said Babineau of conducting only tubas. Photo by Beth Reynolds
SHELBURNE FALLS — The 18th annual Tuba Christmas rang in the season in its usual resonating fashion Sunday, with the throaty noise of half a dozen tubas and a dozen of their smaller relatives vibrating in the floors and pews of Trinity Church and the feet and rib cages of the audience.
Popular across the country and now internationally, Tuba Christmas events put the spotlight on the tubby instruments usually relegated to a supporting role and let the musicians show what they can do.
“You’re going to be hearing people who are usually locked in the back of the band going ‘bom, bom, bom’ coming to the forefront, getting to play some wonderful, lyrical, beautiful things,” said conductor Stephen Babineau.
Babineau of Phillipston has directed the Shelburne Falls Tuba Christmas since its second year in various venues and occasionally outdoors in snowstorms. In recent years, the event has found a warmer home in the Severance Street church, whose pews filled with almost 100 spectators for the afternoon performance.
With pauses to discuss the instrument, the carols and to tell trombone jokes, Babineau led the band of 18 tuba, baritone and euphonium players through a repertoire of classic Christmas carols from the Tuba Christmas playbook.
The band was composed of musicians gathered together that morning from Massachusetts and neighboring states. The group had only about half an hour’s rehearsal Sunday, but many have been attending for years.
“This is my 18th here, and I’ve gone to a total of 64,” said Dana Howe of Rutland, Vt. “It’s just the novelty of it; tubas actually getting to play the melody now and being the center of attention instead of just being the background accompaniment.”
It’s also a good way to meet and catch up with fellow tuba players, Howe said, considering there are rarely more than two or three in any band.
The Shelburne Falls event ranges from 16 to 52 players, said founder and organizer Steve Damon of Gill.
The number of musicians was at the low end of the scale this year, but did feature all three Damons for the first time. Joyana Damon said while son Isaac, 9, sat with them in the band for past performances, this was his first year participating on baritone.
Steve Damon said he tells people he started the event because he was sick of traveling to Boston for the Tuba Christmas, which is partly true, but also because Shelburne Falls is a nice place to have concerts.
There are now four Tuba Christmas events in Massachusetts and the latest addition, in Springfield, is a spin-off of the Shelburne Falls concert.
Roger Burnett, a participant in the Shelbune Falls Tuba Christmas for the past decade, is starting what he thinks is the first in Springfield, in order to be closer to his new home.
That concert is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday in the South Congregational Church, 45 Maple St., Springfield. The concert is free. Performers pay a $10 fee toward an Indian college scholarship foundation, and must meet at 11:30 for a noon rehearsal. Musicians are encouraged to register in advance by emailing Burnett, firstname.lastname@example.org.
“It’s a great, fun event and it promotes the tuba, and that’s what it’s all about,” Burnett said.
You can reach Chris Curtis at: email@example.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 257