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Have yourself a merry little ... TubaChristmas? St. Louis' low brass musicians play in the holidays

A man in a black shirt leads more than 140 tuba, euphonium, and baritone players at Anheuser-Busch in the Soulard neighborhood of St. Louis.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Jeremy Knudtson, the band director at Eureka High School, leads the nearly 150 members of this year’s TubaChristmas ensemble on Saturday during a rehearsal at the Anheuser-Busch Biergarten in Soulard.

Low brass musicians from across the St. Louis region and beyond packed into the Anheuser-Busch Biergarten early Saturday morning.

The nearly 150 low brass musicians' goal? Spreading holiday cheer and appreciation through a unique concert featuring a mix of specially arranged classic and contemporary music.

TubaChristmas is an annual concert that celebrates those who play, teach, and compose music for instruments in the tuba family — including the sousaphone, a marching band version of the tuba, as well as euphoniums and baritones, low brass instruments that look like small tubas.

Harvey Phillips, a Marionville, Missouri, native and longtime tuba and euphonium professor at Indiana University, held the first TubaChristmas concert in 1974 as a tribute to his own teacher and mentor, William J. Bell.

While that first concert was held at New York City's Rockefeller Plaza Ice Rink, subsequent concerts over the years have popped up across the United States, Australia, Canada and Costa Rica. This year marks the national organization’s 50th year of performing tuba-centric holiday tunes.

"It has developed enough notoriety that it gives younger students a place to go,” said Bill Reynolds, an adjunct music professor at Kaskaskia and Rend Lake Colleges and a longtime participant. “It gives some importance to a low brass player … and it gives the younger players a chance to hear some good players and gives them something to shoot for.”

The 79-year-old from Bluford, Illinois, has embraced the TubaChristmas camaraderie for about four decades — even through a hiatus while working in the circus as a musician and later a ringmaster.

Reynolds nods to his eclectic background while donned with a top hat, black wool coat affixed with pins from TubaChristmases past and a rare 1870s helicon — another less-well-known member of the tuba family.

Bill Reynolds, 79, of Bluford, Ill., plays a rare 1870’s helicon on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023, during the 50th annual TubaChristmas at Anheuser-Busch’s biergarten in Soulard.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Bill Reynolds, 79, of Bluford, Ill., plays a rare 1870s helicon on Saturday during the 50th annual TubaChristmas at Anheuser-Busch’s biergarten in Soulard.

TubaChristmas provides an opportunity to put low brass instruments on center stage that are normally not in standard wind band repertoire, Reynolds explained. "We're kind of designated to the back row in most bands,” he said and chuckled. “It's just a lot of fun to get together and play something where I get the melody all the time.”

While one may expect a cacophony of questionable sounds when you put so many tubas in a room, many of which have never performed with one another, the St. Louis group filled the halls of the Soulard brewery with delightful and mellow melodies — all of them adorned with TubaChristmas buttons featuring Phillips, “Mr. Tuba” himself.

Jeremy Knudtson, the high school band director at Eureka High School, has led the St. Louis chapter of the group for a decade. He said he first learned about TubaChristmas while in college at the University of Central Missouri and has been involved, now alongside his family, ever since.

"This has become a tradition for so many people in so many families," he said while noting his three sons were playing in the ensemble. "I'm so excited to be here, seeing the camaraderie of these people that only see each other once or twice a year coming together and just picking up where they left off."

The camaraderie and community among fellow tuba and euphonium players is something Michael Bennett, 53, has seen over the 46 TubaChristmas concerts he’s attended throughout his life, 16 of those being in St. Louis. The steel mill financial analyst made the 3½-hour trek to St. Louis from Gosnell, Arkansas, this year to perform alongside Lisa, his 25-year-old daughter.

"It just doesn't feel like Christmas without this,” he said of the event. “This is a chance for tuba players to just leave out the squeaky clarinets and the bad-sounding French Horns and let the trumpets go do their thing somewhere else. This is where the two of us get to sit together and make fun of everyone else and play some beautiful music together.”

Michael Bennett, 53, of Gosnell, Ark., plays the a tuba alongside his daughter Linda Bennett, 25, right, on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023, during the 50th annual TubaChristmas at Anheuser-Busch’s biergarten in Soulard.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Michael Bennett, 53, of Gosnell, Ark., plays a tuba alongside his daughter Linda Bennett, 25, right, on Saturday during TubaChristmas at Anheuser-Busch.

Bennett recalls his daughter being placed on trumpet in sixth grade and was crushed that she couldn’t follow in his footsteps, but later was able to persuade her band director to make a change. They celebrated by performing in the circa 2010 edition of TubaChristmas at the St. Louis Galleria.

“Sitting there with my daughter playing our horns together, that's just got to be one of the most proud memories I've got where this little 12-year-old girl wanted to be just like her dad,” he said during a break in the band’s day-of rehearsal.

Knudtson called the band back shortly after to rehearse the world premiere of his arrangement of “Here Comes the King” — Budweiser’s iconic jingle — created to celebrate the concert at the brewery. In the end, the director said the audience’s reaction to the music is one of the things he looks forward to the most each year.

“It literally brings tears to my eyes because it is just a wonderful, wonderful moment,” he said. “It's a way to spread goodwill and love and just keep the magic of this joyous season alive year [after] year."

See photos from the event below by interim digital editor and staff photojournalist Brian Munoz.

Miguel Oseguera Gonzalez, 26, of Collinsville, holds his baritone as his wife Lydia Oseguera, 25, places a bow on the horn on Saturday, during a rehearsal for this year's TubaChristmas concert at the Anheuser-Busch Brewery in Soulard.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Miguel Oseguera Gonzalez, 26, of Collinsville, holds his baritone as his wife, Lydia Oseguera, 25, places a bow on the horn on Saturday during a rehearsal for this year's TubaChristmas concert at Anheuser-Busch in Soulard.
Jay Spirakis, 45, of Columbia, Ill., rehearses on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023, during the 50th annual TubaChristmas at Anheuser-Busch’s biergarten in Soulard.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Jay Spirakis, 45, of Columbia, Ill., rehearses on Saturday during TubaChristmas at the Anheuser-Busch Biergarten.
Alessandra Pennycuick, of Eureka, holds a TubaChristmas button on Saturday during the low brass holiday celebration at Anheuser-Busch in Soulard. A photo of Harvey Phillips is centerpiece to this year’s TubaChristmas button.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Alessandra Pennycuick, of Eureka, holds a TubaChristmas button on Saturday during the low brass holiday celebration at the Anheuser-Busch Biergarten in Soulard. A photo of Harvey Phillips is the centerpiece of this year’s TubaChristmas button.
Maddox Mayer, 14, of Canton, Mich., plays the euphonium on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023, during the 50th annual TubaChristmas at Anheuser-Busch’s biergarten in Soulard.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Maddox Mayer, 14, of Canton, Mich., plays the euphonium on Saturday during this year's TubaChristmas at the Anheuser-Busch Biergarten in Soulard.
Jeremy Knudtson, the high school band director at Eureka High School, leads the nearly 150 members of this year’s TubaChristmas ensemble on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023, during a rehearsal at Anheuser-Busch’s biergarten in Soulard.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Jeremy Knudtson, the high school band director at Eureka High School, leads the nearly 150 members of this year’s TubaChristmas ensemble on Saturday during a rehearsal at the Anheuser-Busch Biergarten.
Jeremy Knudtson, the high school band director at Eureka High School, leads the nearly 150 members of this year’s TubaChristmas ensemble on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023, during a rehearsal at Anheuser-Busch’s biergarten in Soulard.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Jeremy Knudtson, band director at Eureka High School, leads the nearly 150 members of this year’s TubaChristmas ensemble on Saturday during a rehearsal at the Anheuser-Busch Biergarten.
An elf is affixed to a euphonium played by Nathan Beil, 16, of O’Fallon, Mo., on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023, during the 50th annual TubaChristmas at Anheuser-Busch’s biergarten in Soulard.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
An elf is affixed to a euphonium played by Nathan Beil, 16, of O’Fallon, Mo., on Saturday during TubaChristmas at the Anheuser-Busch Brewery.
J.T. Lorio, of Columbia, Ill., rehearses on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023, during the 50th annual TubaChristmas at Anheuser-Busch’s biergarten in Soulard.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
J.T. Lorio, of Columbia, Ill., rehearses on Saturday during TubaChristmas at the Anheuser-Busch Biergarten.
Isaac Wilson, 17, of Eureka, rehearses on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023, during the 50th annual TubaChristmas at Anheuser-Busch’s biergarten in Soulard.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Isaac Wilson, 17, of Eureka, rehearses on Saturday during the annual TubaChristmas concert at the Anheuser-Busch Biergarten.
Liam O’Brien, 16, of Chesterfield, plays the tuba on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023, during the 50th annual TubaChristmas at Anheuser-Busch’s biergarten in Soulard.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Liam O’Brien, 16, of Chesterfield, plays the tuba on Saturday during TubaChristmas at the Anheuser-Busch Biergarten in south St. Louis.
Nearly 150 members of this year’s TubaChristmas ensemble rehearse on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023, at Anheuser-Busch’s biergarten in Soulard.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Nearly 150 members of this year’s TubaChristmas ensemble rehearse on Saturday at the Anheuser-Busch Biergarten in Soulard.
From left: Sam McReynolds. 23 and Addi Bussen, 22, both of Eureka, play the baritone on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023, during the 50th annual TubaChristmas at Anheuser-Busch’s biergarten in Soulard.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
From left: Sam McReynolds, 23, and Addi Bussen, 22, both of Eureka, play the baritone on Saturday during the 50th annual TubaChristmas at the Anheuser-Busch Brewery in south St. Louis.
Zach Hardee, of Fenton, performs a solo on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023, during the 50th annual TubaChristmas at Anheuser-Busch’s biergarten in Soulard.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Zach Hardee, 17, of Fenton, performs a solo on Saturday during TubaChristmas at the Anheuser-Busch Biergarten.
Hayden Langston, 19, of Maryland Heights, plays the baritone on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023, during the 50th annual TubaChristmas at Anheuser-Busch’s biergarten in Soulard.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Hayden Langston, 19, of Maryland Heights, plays the baritone on Saturday during the 50th annual TubaChristmas at the Anheuser-Busch Biergarten in Soulard.
Jeremy Knudtson, the high school band director at Eureka High School, leads the nearly 150 members of this year’s TubaChristmas ensemble on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023, during a rehearsal at Anheuser-Busch’s biergarten in Soulard.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Jeremy Knudtson, Eureka High School's band director, leads the nearly 150 members of this year’s TubaChristmas ensemble on Saturday during a rehearsal at the Anheuser-Busch Biergarten in Soulard.

Brian Munoz is a photojournalist and multimedia reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.