Tuba Christmas


The baritone brass of Tuba christmas breathes new life into classic carols.

By Amy Larson
Photography by Copper Chadwick and Courtesy of Dr. David Mathie

On Saturday December 7, baritone brass will fill the air of downtown Boise with the sounds of Christmas. Boise’s TubaChristmas, now in its twenty-second year in he City of Trees, has become a can’t-miss holiday tradition; with concerts held at both The Grove and the Rotunda of the Capitol Building.

“It’s really unusual to hear live Christmas music these days,” says Dr. David Mathie, a professor of trombone, euphonium, and instrumental music education at BSU and founder of Boise’s TubeChristmas. “People come up to us and tell us how great it is, how good it is to hear traditional Christmas carols played by live musicians, as opposed to recorded, electronic music.”

TubaChristmas draws tuba and euphonium players of all ages and all walks of life to its ranks. Music students from the Treasure Valley’s elementary schools, junior highs, high schools and colleges join ranks with professors, professional musicians, and enthusiasts to play the half-hour show of 20-25 carols. And if it seems unlikely to you that such an event could draw a crowd, you’re wrong. Nearly 500 people attended last year’s concert at the Capitol Rotunda.

The first TubaChristmas played its initial notes during the winter of 1974 in New York City. Conceived of by the “patron saint of tuba’s,” Harvey Phillips, TubaChristmas is now played in over 90 cities worldwide, including three locations in Idaho: Boise, Nampa, and Twin Falls. This knowledge, Mathie speculates, would have made the late Harvey Phillips very proud.

Having completed his Master’s at Juilliard, Mathie was lucky enough to have played in New York’s second TubaChristmas in 1975. Since then, he has played the arrangement many times. When he first taught in Boise, several BSU students who had heard of TubaChristmas asked Mathie organize the event in the Treasure Valley, which he happily did.

However, Mathie’s connection with TubaChristmas runs deeper than his 1975 appearance in NYC’s TubaChristmas. Mathie had known the “Titan of the Tuba”, Harvey Phillips, since high school; and the two other coordinators for Boise’s TubaChristmas have Harvey Phillips ties as well. BSU’s adjunct tuba instructor, Bill Winkle, used to conduct his own TubaChristmas in Nebraska and studied tuba with Phillips at the University of Indiana. Likewise, Mike Fischer, a tuba player with the Boise Philharmonic, also studied with Harvey Phillips at the University of Indiana.

It’s somewhat serendipitous that these three individuals, all mentored by the same man, would converge upon the Treasure Valley and wind up working together on a project that they were so very familiar with.

“We have added it up,” Mathie says, “and we’ve counted close to eighty TubaChristmas events between us,” he laughs, “Isn’t that something?”

Boise’s TubaChristmas will be held Saturday, December 7 at 3:15 p.m. at The Grove (outdoors) and again at 4:00 p.m. at the State Capitol’s Rotunda. The event is free to the public, but there is a $10 registration fee to participate as a musician. Musician inquiries can be made to Dr. Mathie at (208) 426-1685. For more information, visit www.tubachristmas.com.