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Holiday Tubas return to Iowa City to oompah in the holidays


Holiday Tubas

Friday, Dec. 9, 12:30-1 p.m. at the Old Capitol Museum


Jav Ducker/Little Village

Holiday celebrations in December may have become a bit more homogenous since the advertising department of Coca-Cola helped standardize the image of Santa Claus in America’s public imagination starting in the early 1930s, and the advertising department of Montgomery Ward invented Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer at the end of that decade.

But there are still pockets of local tradition around the country. Since the 1880s, communities along the Mississippi in south Louisiana have built massive bonfires on their levees every Christmas Eve “to light Santa’s way.” In 1957, Chandler, Arizona, created a unique tradition by replacing its standard-issue evergreen with a Christmas tree made out of tumbleweeds. And in Iowa City, tuba music has marked the holidays for almost 50 years.

Since 1973, tuba, sousaphone (the wrap-around tuba for marching) and euphonium (think tuba, but smaller) players have gathered on the Pentacrest for Holiday Tubas.

“It started as a lark and now it’s a tradition,” Robert Yeats, the now-retired University of Iowa music professor who first assembled the Holiday Tubas in 1973, told the Gazette in 2000. For 30 years, regardless of how cold the weather got, Yeats dressed as Santa and directed the tubas.

The Holiday Tubas will perform for 30 minutes on the steps on the Old Capitol Museum starting at 12:30 p.m. on Friday.

The core of the ensemble is made up of the students of John Manning, UI associate professor of tuba and euphonium and leader of the Holiday Tubas since 2004, joined by alumni, as well as “adult enthusiasts and other students,” according to a UI news release.

Manning said “anyone with a tuba, sousaphone or euphonium is welcome to join in playing.”

“Bring your instrument, arrive at noon inside Old Capitol Museum, and plan to play from 12:30-1 p.m. outside on the steps for a cheerful crowd.”

Manning is also asking “all participants and attendees to don their most festive apparel to help make this year’s performance the most visually colorful and festive yet.” The wearing of ugly holiday sweaters — the uglier, the better — is especially encouraged.

As in previous years, the Holiday Tubas will be collecting new, unwrapped toys for the Domestic Violence Intervention Program’s Holiday Store. The store provides toys and other holiday items, as well as some basic necessities, for the families the nonprofit serves.

At the conclusion of the performance on Friday, the public is invited to join the Holiday Tubas inside the Old Capitol for cookies.


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