Tubas horn in as sound of season 200 aficionados perform Christmas program to honor instrument

December 14, 1997|By Tamara Ikenberg | Tamara Ikenberg,SUN STAFF

Leah Goldstein, 10, prefers the tuba to the violin.

"The violin is too perfect. People who play it act too perfect," said Goldstein, who lives in Pikesville and attends Wellwood International School. "Most tuba people have a sense of humor, and they fool around."

And Leah, along with more than 200 other musicians, showed nearly 2,500 listeners just what the tuba and tuba players can do yesterday at Baltimore's 14th annual Tuba Christmas, held at the Inner Harbor. It featured mostly local tuba players ages 2 1/2 to 73 playing Christmas songs and carols from "Adeste Fideles" to "Jingle Bells."

"No other instrument gets together like this," said Leah's father, Ed Goldstein, 43, a Tuba Christmas coordinator and tuba player himself. "There isn't an oboe Christmas."

The players decorated their tubas in tinsel and ribbons. Some tubas were dressed as Santa Claus or had Tuba Christmas scarves draped around them.

Harvey Phillips, the creator of Tuba Christmas, is an ebullient master of ceremonies. The distinguished professor of music at Indiana University in Bloomington thrusts his microphone forward to get the audience to sing.

Phillips, 68, pauses between songs to discuss tuba lore, talk about his teachers and explain why each tuba carol is played twice: once to appreciate the amazing sound, and again, for the audience to sing along.

Observers watched from the balcony of Harborplace while some at ground-level stood on tiptoe.

"I don't think we have to stand this close to hear them," said Danielle Mason, 22.

And she's right. The sound is commanding and warm, drowning out surrounding noise with ease.

Mason, a Greenbelt resident, came to watch her younger sister play.

Others just stumbled upon the festivities. Daniel Walton, 17, and Amy Shomper, 17, were strolling around the harbor when they stopped to look and listen.

Walton, a Dundalk resident, said the concert put him in a caroling mood. But he plans to do his caroling sans tuba.

"Tubas are expensive," he said.

"I'll get you one for Christmas," said Shomper, an Abingdon resident.

Shomper, Walton and Mason expressed surprise that tubas could play melodies.

"Tuba Christmas is a chance to show how melodic the tuba can be," said 17-year-old player Kurt Clodfelter of Severn. "If anyone has any questions about what this instrument is capable of, all you need to do is come to this concert once."

While Tuba Christmas allows the tuba to assert its melodic ability, the concert was mainly developed to pay homage to the great men and women in tuba history.

Phillips started Tuba Christmas in 1974 as a tribute to his teacher, tuba virtuoso Bill Bell, who was born on Christmas Day, 1902.

The first Tuba Christmas took place on the ice rink stage of New York's Rockefeller Center.

Now, Tuba Christmas takes place in about 170 cities worldwide, including Helsinki, Munich and Milan.

Phillips also hopes that his concert will raise the tuba's popular profile.

"We need to get out of this knee-deep prejudice. We don't need people saying, 'Your instrument is too big and cumbersome,' " he said. "It's important that we share this demonstration of our heritage."

Pub Date: 12/14/97

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