Anchorage TubaChristmas 2023: A room full of tubas is a room full of fun!
The sounds that came from the Anchorage Performing Arts Center this weekend were bright and brassy -- yet, very, very low and deep, which is what you would expect from a room full of tubas.
The concert was held in the lobby, packed with people all the way up the staircases and onto the mezzanine.
Even before the first note was played, the crowd was ready to have fun, maybe because there's something about the sound of tubas that puts a smile on your face.
In all, 52 tubas turned out for TubaChristmas 2023, an annual event in Anchorage for almost three decades.
For most of those years, Neal Haglund has been the conductor. This year, the tuba orchestra was made up of horns of all shapes and sizes that included sousaphones, baritones and double-belled euphoniums — but the differences don’t stop there.
“There’s all sorts of different keys," Haglund said. "The basic one is a B flat tuba. Then they have a double B flat tuba. That have C tubas. They have E flat tubas. So it just depends on what they want to bring that day. ”
Stan Summers is sort of the unofficial historian for Anchorage TubaChristmas. The very first one was held outdoors in Town Square.
"It was 18 degrees, and all of a sudden the horns started freezing up," Summers said. "Over half of the people ended up with their valves all stuck and coming inside for a few minutes to loosen them up — and then go back out and play some more, until they froze up again."
After that, Tuba Christmas was held inside and Summers has never missed a single one. So what has kept him coming?
"Probably the oddity of it," Summers said. "You think of seeing orchestras and that together. You don’t think of tubas getting together and playing. They were always the oompa, oompah, pah-pah.'”
Normally tubas sit in the back of the band, playing bass lines, but Andy Sorensen was front and center with his sousaphone fully dressed for the occasion. The bell of the instrument was decorated with Santa's face, complete with hat, beard and a bright red bulb of a nose.
When asked what it takes to play the sousaphone, Sorensen had a two word answer. "Hot air," he said.
Sorensen was originally a trombone player, who wound-up playing his first tuba concert after a friend left town and told him he should take his tuba and play in his place. Since then he's been a fixture at these TubaChristmas concerts for 15 years.
He says, the best part is to sit down with all the other tuba players.
"There's that big sound of all those other people around you with a big deep bass sound," he said.
Sorensen says the experience of playing together, keeps the tuba players coming back — that they never balk at having to pay a ten dollar registration fee to play in the concert.
He asked, "How many concerts do you know, where you pay ten bucks to play and the audience gets in for free?"
The fee also includes a commemorative tuba pin, but Sorensen he's happy to keep paying and playing, because he loves to see how much the audience enjoys the music.