Tuba Christmas moves outdoors in 26th year

  • Musicians perform at Tuba Christmas at the United Church of Bernardston in 2019. David Neal, far right, is pastor of the church. STAFF File PHOTO/MAX MARCUS

News Editor
Published: 11/25/2021 3:03:10 PM
Modified: 11/25/2021 3:02:54 PM

BERNARDSTON — After transforming Tuba Christmas into a largely solo endeavor last year, the traditional gathering of more than 20 musicians and their instruments is back, albeit outdoors.

The 26th annual Franklin County event, organized by Gill resident Steve Damon, will be held outside the United Church of Bernardston on Saturday at 2 p.m. While the church has hosted Tuba Christmas for several years, moving the event outdoors is new to ensure healthy airflow and the ability to practice social distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We don’t want to be inside blowing tubas at everybody and we don’t want people inside singing at each other,” Damon explained.

Still, he is making the most of the change.

“Inside it’s a concert; outside it’s a festivity,” Damon added. “We’re going to make sure every passerby can see and hear us. … You would not believe how beautiful a bunch of tubas can sound.”

Tuba Christmas events are held across the country, as well as in Canada and Costa Rica this year. Damon said he “fell in love with the concept” and was inspired to start a local version after attending a Tuba Christmas in Boston in 1990. Notably, the Franklin County event is breaking from its usual day of Sunday this year to avoid conflicting with the Boston event.

“We’re the first Tuba Christmas in Massachusetts for 2021,” Damon said of holding his event on Saturday. “Boston does it the day after.”

Damon explained that various Tuba Christmases often draw from the same group of musicians, and that the Franklin County concert has attracted anywhere from 12 to 52 performers. Twenty is often the expectation, though Damon hopes holding the event on a Saturday may increase participation.

While the musicians typically come from across Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York and Connecticut, Damon said some devoted performers make it a point to play at as many Tuba Christmases as they can, no matter how far. Damon recalled a man from Logan, Utah who “came out on his private airplane.” He also met a Vermonter who picked up baritone as a new hobby during the pandemic and who plans to see how many Tuba Christmas concerts he can play.

This sort of commitment is something Damon exhibited himself in 2020, when it became evident that a traditional, indoor Tuba Christmas gathering wouldn’t be possible in the wake of the pandemic.

“It was probably October when I said, ‘We probably can’t do this, but we’ll do it some other way,’” he recalled, noting that it felt particularly important not to skip the 25th year. “I don’t give up on traditions easily.”

Instead, Damon, armed with his baritone horn, embarked on a solo tour of Franklin County. With assistance from four or five friends who helped check off some of the towns, and his wife, Joyanna, who performed in Monroe, Damon was able to post videos online of performances in every Franklin County town.

Come Saturday, though, in a more normal routine, musicians will arrive at the United Church of Bernardston and register by 1:30 p.m., rehearse at 1:45 and start the concert at 2. Damon explained participants are all familiar with the popular Christmas songs that are performed, like “Joy to the World” and “Silent Night.”

“Everyone has played it over and over and over. We all know the music,” he said. “We call it the ‘rawhide method’ of music — you move ’em in and move ’em out.”

While the concert is free for attendees, donations will be accepted to support Franklin County’s CROP Hunger Walk, which Damon also organizes. The event is a project of Church World Service that provides support throughout the world to communities lacking enough food. The $10 registration fee for performers also supports the CROP Hunger Walk, as well as scholarships at Indiana University Bloomington, where Tuba Christmas founder Harvey Phillips was once a professor.

Reach Shelby Ashline at 413-772-0261, ext. 270 or sashline@recorder.com.


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