leisure 12.2.11

300 Tubas and a Dream
the skint

It is 1974 and Harvey Phillips is looking for a way to honor his teacher, William Bell, who was born on Christmas day, 1902. Mr. Bell played with Sousa and Toscanini, and taught at Juilliard. Mr. Phillips thinks Bell isn't as well known to other tubists as he should be. Tubists don't seem to know other tubists, so he sends letters to 400 tuba players around the country and asks if they would like to be part of a Christmas concert. Three hundred say 'yes.' Whoops. Better find a venue.

Mr. Phillips says, "I thought New York would be a good place to have the concert because William Bell had taught there. I called Rockefeller Center and asked to speak to the vice president of public relations. I asked him if they ever used a stage behind the ice skating rink for concerts. He said this had never been done, but he asked 'What kind of ensemble do you have?' I said, 'I don't have one but I expect around 300 tubas.' There was silence on the other end of the phone."

Sensing that veep isn't quite sharing his vision, Mr. Phillips gives him the numbers of some of his friends, who happened to be Leonard Bernstein, Morton Gould, Leopold Stokowski, Gunther Schuller, and Andre Kostelanetz. An hour later the VP from Rock Center calls back and says, "I've spoken to your friends and you can have anything you want."

Next problem: there are no arrangements for 300 tubas. Mr. Phillips asks Alec Wilder to do them. Wilder, after a certain (perhaps understandable) reluctance, comes up with 33. The first rehearsal is held on the second floor of the NBC building in a long corridor about 20 feet wide and 80 feet long. In addition to the musicians and Mr. Wilder, a group of friends, family, and reporters are gathered. After the cacophonous warm-up, the conductor, Paul Lavalle, calls for silence. Then, improbably, 300 tubas begin to play "O, Come All Ye Faithful." Mr. Phillips says, "Everyone began to cry and Alec Wilder was jumping up and down, hugging me, tears in his eyes, saying 'It works! It works!'"

Now there are Tuba Christmas concerts every year all over the country and around the world. The one at Rock Center will take place on Sunday, December 11th, 3:30pm.

skint - adj. british slang (1930-35)
lacking funds, broke, bust, stone-broke, impecunious

Around town this weekend, courtesy of the skint: a daily listing of free and cheap things to buy, see, do and eat in New York.

every thu-sat thru 12/17 11pm: vote for your favorite of five 10-minute episode plays to see the next installment the following week at #serials@theflea. free sixpoint brew, live music, and 75 original plays in all. the flea theater, $10.

every sat thru 12/24: cheaper than building a jacked-up delorean, the vintage subway takes you back in time via the m line for the holiday season… all included in the price of a regular subway ride, $2.25.

sat 7pm: two barbershop quartets harmonize to the death at arlene's grocery, $10

sun 7pm: featuring members who've worked with sufjan stevens, bon iver and the national, new music collective ymusic perform music from their debut album of commissioned works, beautiful mechanical (stream it here), featuring pieces written by st. vincent, my brightest diamond, son lux, more. rockwood's stage 2, $10 tickets here.

thru 12/31: get a free admission ticket to the bronx zoo when you bring a new, unwrapped toy or 10 nonperishable food items to the bronx, central park, prospect park or queens zoo. or, bring the donation items to new york aquarium for free admission there.

[Photo: Ilya Nikhamin]


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