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Revenge of the Tubas 

Brassy holiday fun at the Galleria

You may not know it, but some classical musicians are called virtuosos, whereas others are just called names. Much as the lead guitarist in a rock band gets the chicks while the drummer gets the mockery (Tommy Lee notwithstanding), the pianists and violinists get roses while the trombone and bassoon players are the butt of musicians' in-jokes.

Among the ridiculed instrumentalists, no group is lower than the tuba players. Lugging their twenty-pound horns, playing in oompah bands, always in the background and never the limelight, the men and women of the tuba are made to feel like curiosities.

Well, the tuba players are mad as hell, and they're not going to take it anymore. More than 100 players of the tuba and fellow bass/baritone instruments the euphonium, baritone horn and sousaphone are converging on the St. Louis Galleria for the annual "Merry Tuba Christmas" concert. If you've been to any of the previous dozen or so of these, you know that not only are they an occasion for powerful music, but, unexpectedly, the concerts are a showcase for the beauty of the tuba as a melody-carrying instrument.

For more than 25 years, tuba players have gathered in scores of cities at holiday time to perform these concerts. In St. Louis, says conductor Dr. Gregory Fox, more than 100 musicians of all ages from area ensembles will perform holiday standards with their huge brass and silver-plated tubas. Shoppers will stop and gawk at the sheer number of musicians and the size of their instruments, then stick around to absorb their rich, deep, powerful renditions of Christmas carols.

The brightness of the melodies issuing from the big bells of these instruments is surprising, but the power is not. The bass current of the music shakes you down to your sigmoid colon. "I always tell people the concert is the low point of their holiday season," quips Fox.

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