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A merry Tuba Christmas, to one and all

A merry Tuba Christmas, to one and all

Bright sounds, merry melodies come from chorus of brass players

Teddy bears, tinsel, wrapping paper –– these aren’t the typical adornments of a tuba or euphonium player, but the musicians who will storm Mason City’s Southbridge Mall on Saturday won’t mind.

It’s just another hallmark of Tuba Christmas, the annual gathering of brass instruments and holiday carols that takes place across the country.

“Tuba players and euphonium players in general are kind of a unique breed,” said Jake Gassman, band director at Charles City High School and a tuba player. “This is a chance for us to kind of show off our personality a little bit while still playing some fun music.”

Tuba Christmas has a long history for brass devotees: established in 1974 by Harvey Phillips as a tribute to his mentor William Bell, the gathering boasts it’s own Tuba Christmas songbook, with carols arranged by Alec Wilder, and celebrates its 42nd anniversary for the 2015 season.

Gassman started playing in tuba/euphonium Christmas ensembles during his freshman year at University of Iowa.

Since then, he’s performed at the Cedar Rapids Tuba Christmas gathering, and now at the Mason City gathering for about five years.

“I’ve pretty much been to one every since. They’re a unique and wonderful time,” Gassman said.

The concert attracts players of all ages –– from professional jazz musicians, who arrange their own music for Mason City show to perform, to CCHS musicians, to fifth graders who first picked up their instrument just months ago.

“They won’t play very much, but they get to sit in there with the group and hear what that sounds like,” Gassman said. “We know they’re not going to play it perfect. We have enough people in the group that are going to be able to play it perfect. Those kids, it’s just to get the experience, and learn how to sightread –– they’re going to play these tunes twice and they’re not going to see them again for another 365 days.”

It’s also not a big time commitment for instrumentalists –– ”I suppose you could contact them and get the music ahead of time,” Gassman said, but the majority of musicians pick up their music at the first and only rehearsal, 10 a.m. that morning, before the 1 p.m.

showing. The group plays between 15 to 20 songs for the hour-long concert.

He’ll sometimes bring a euphonium to perform on if he knows more CCHS students will bring tubas –– or if he doesn’t feel like carrying the tuba around. Still, “I like my tuba,” Gassman said, smiling.

Participating musicians receive a pin for each year they take part: Gassman’s pins are lined up on his bulletin board.

One of his former students, now graduated, has at least 13 pins; Gassman has seen other musicians wear scarves full of 20 or more pins to the show.

“Once you hear it, you’ll want to catch it every time,” Gassman said. “It’s a good sign that it’s going to keep going, and that’s what we want as teachers and as musicians –– we want to see what we love be appreciated and keep going after we’re not able to do it anymore.”

By Kate Hayden [email protected]

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