Naperville tuba event puts unique spin on Christmas music
By Hilary Decent For The Sun December 10, 2011 2:48PM
Musicians take part in the annual Tuba Christmas outside the U.S. Bank in downtown Naperville, Ill., on Saturday, Dec. 10, 2011. | Corey R. Minkanic~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 12, 2012 8:34AM
One of Naperville’s more unique holiday traditions drew an ecletic crowd to the downtown area Saturday, drawn by Christmas carols accompanied by the tones of tubas and euphoniums.
Tubachristmas has been staged in Naperville for 34 years and appears to be more popular than ever. A record number of tuba and euphonium plays took part this year, 71, and about 100 people braved temperatures in the mid-20s to watch as they played outside the U.S Bank on Washington Street downtown.
The event was introduced to the U.S. in 1929 by Harvey Phillips, a student of Bill Bell, who was known as the Paganini of the tuba. Today there are seven Tubachristmases around Illinois.
Naperville’s Tubachristmas is led by Naperville Municipal Band Director Ron Keller.
“Everybody thinks the tuba will be bombastic, but it’s actually very mellow,” he said before the group’s only rehearsal an hour before the performance. “All the instruments are conical. Trumpets are cylindrical and have a bright sound. The conical instruments are more mellow. It’s a very melodic sound and fun to listen to.”
Keller’s own favorite to play is “Jingle Bells,” because in his version it incorporates the “National Emblem March.”
This year’s band featured 20 first-time players as well as a number of players from junior high schools and high schools.
The oldest was Keller himself, the youngest 10-year-old Noah Bayer, who attends River Woods Elementary School in Naperville.
“I’m a bit nervous,” he admitted before rehearsals, “but I enjoy playing in the band. I like an audience.”
Ryan Sedlak, 11, of Madison Junior High School in Naperville, has been playing tuba for two and a half years.
“It’s easy,” he said. “You need a lot of breath but once you have the hang of it you’re good to go.”
With his dark green sousaphone decked with a red bow, wreath and twinkling Christmas lights, Paul Donohue came all the way from Rockford to play.
“We make a family day out of it,” he said. “My sousaphone weights about 14 pounds compared to the regular ones which are 35 pounds. It’s made of fiberglass. The sound maybe a little different and its possible the bow blocks it a little.”
Sue Pietrie from Aurora has played euphonium for more than 30 years. It’s her fifth year of playing at Tubachristmas.
“It puts me in the mood for Christmas,” she said. “It’s the only time of year tubas and euphoniums get to play together without other band instruments.”
The event brought visitors from near and far.
“It’s our first year here, but we go to the Municipal Band concerts all the time,” said Naperville resident Michelle Wolfe. “Music is an important part of Christmas.”
Bo Wozniak of Naperville said: “This is my maiden voyage, my first year here, even though we have lived in Naperville for 27 years. It’s a nice way to start the holiday season.”
Janelle Wills of West Chicago said she decided to shop in Naperville because she knew the band would be playing.
“It’s really fun to hear,” she said, taking a break between singing carols.
Sharon Hrycewicz of Batavia added: “There’s something joyous about the tuba. You can’t be sad when it’s playing.”
Following the downtown concert, the band gave a repeat performance in the warmth of the Westfield Fox Valley Mall in Aurora.