In 1974, the great tuba player and educator Harvey Phillips organized a concert of tubas and euphoniums playing Christmas carols at the Rockefeller Center skating rink. It was the beginning of a tradition that’s been growing ever since. In 2013 TubaChristmas celebrates its fortieth year with concerts in more than 200 communities in the U.S. and abroad.

TubaChristmas arrived in Ann Arbor in 1998, thanks to the efforts of a small group that included George Thompson and Mike Grant, who continue to organize the event and lead the concerts. The performance is held at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market on the Sunday afternoon following Midnight Madness–December 8 this year.

Usually thirty to forty tuba and euphonium players converge for the event. They meet Sunday morning, rehearse for two hours, and break for lunch, and the concert begins at 2 p.m. Players include students, amateurs, and professionals and range in age from junior high to retirees. The organizers make sure that younger players are paired with veteran participants.

People who expect that a large group of tubas could only produce a loud, murky rumbling are in for a surprise. In spite of their low range, tubas have a wonderfully clear but mellow sound and can get around with surprising agility. Tubas and euphoniums–instruments in the same family of brass but that play in a higher register–create an ensemble that’s lyrical, majestic, nuanced, and warmly enveloping. There’s no sound quite like it.

The best reason for experiencing TubaChristmas is that it’s just plain fun. The instrumentalists play with such obvious pleasure, and the conductors lead the group with such infectious enthusiasm that it would be hard not to be drawn into the joy of the experience. The bulk of the concert is a sing-along, with song sheets provided for the audience; there’s nothing like being embedded in a group of people singing just for the pure fun of making music together. Whether you sing or simply listen and absorb the sounds around you, the experience is exhilarating.

TubaChristmas is a great event for audiences of all ages and attention spans. It lasts about an hour, it’s informal enough that you can come and go at your leisure, and it’s held under a tent, so you aren’t exposed to unpredictable early December precipitation. It’s also very much a family affair. Kids are encouraged to participate–at the 2012 concert, Thompson’s daughter Lauren, then in kindergarten, led one of the carols.

Tuba and euphonium players interested in participating this year may register (not necessary, but you’ll get additional information) by contacting George Thompson at (734) 395-9544 or at