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TubaChristmas concert celebrates booming instrument's role the season's favorite songs


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Geoff Bennett: The songs and sounds of the holiday season are upon us.

"NewsHour" digital associate producer Tim McPhillips reports on a concert that celebrates one booming brass instrument.

Tim McPhillips: It wasn't the famed Rockefeller Center Tree, the dazzling windows at Saks Fifth Avenue, or the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall that brought hundreds of people out in a downpour to celebrate the holiday season in New York.

It was the tuba. This year marked the 50th anniversary of TubaChristmas, a yearly gathering of enthusiasts who play the season's favorite songs exclusively on this booming brass instrument.

Michael Salzman, Coordinator, New York City TubaChristmas: They have come from all over the country. I have people who have driven here from South Dakota, from Minnesota, from Virginia, North Carolina. There are close to 300 TubaChristmas events across the country and around the world, but this is the granddaddy of them all. This is where it all began.

Tim McPhillips: Michael Salzman is the coordinator for New York City's iteration of TubaChristmas. This TubaChristmas is his 49th.

Michael Salzman: I started playing the tuba for the same reason that most tuba players did, because the band needed a tuba player.

Tim McPhillips: To the untrained ear, it may be hard to recognize the tuba as the steady bass of a song or the important anchor to a harmony.

Mathias Oldham, Tuba Player: We really help make things run. We might not be the flashiest, but we're definitely the foundation.

Tim McPhillips: When he started TubaChristmas, famed tuba player Harvey Phillips wanted his instrument to have its own moment in the spotlight.

The tradition began in 1974 as a tribute to Phillips' own tuba teacher and mentor, William J. Bell. The event now happens in places like San Francisco, as well as hundreds of others around the U.S. and the world, like Honolulu, Costa Rica, Vancouver, and Washington, D.C.

Chris Wilhjelm, Conductor, New York City TubaChristmas: It's amazing. These people bringing their little children, 11-, 12-year-old kids here playing in the ensemble, what it means to them, oh, my goodness.

Tim McPhillips: Chris Wilhjelm has been the New York City TubaChristmas conductor for 20 years. Rehearsal starts just hours prior to the show, when tuba players of all ages and experiences do a quick test run.

Chris Wilhjelm: We have just a few minutes to rehearse. Yes, I guess you could say it's a little bit of a challenge.

Tim McPhillips: After rehearsal, the players swarm Rockefeller Plaza decked out in their finest holiday styles, showcasing the tuba's unexpected range.

Michael Salzman: It's really such a very, very beautiful sound. We equate it to a big warm hug.

Tim McPhillips: And while the weather outside was frightful, to those in attendance, TubaChristmas was still delightful.

For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Tim McPhillips.

Amna Nawaz: Like a big warm hug.


Amna Nawaz: Thank you, Tim.

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