Tuba Christmas resonates in pandemic holiday season

Tuba Christmas will rumble ahead this year despite the pandemic.

For many music lovers in Greater Victoria, the deep, warm notes of O Come All Ye Faithful rising out of 120 tubas and euphoniums in Market Square signals the start of Christmas.

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This year, there will be a different venue, fewer musicians and a shorter program, but the same beautiful, age-old carols played on the lower-brass instruments will reverberate right into your home. The one-hour performance at the University of Victoria’s Farquahar Auditorium will be livestreamed on the CHEK News Facebook page at 4 p.m. Saturday.

Victoria's Tuba Christmas was founded 42 years ago by Eugene Dowling, a tuba player with the Victoria Symphony who taught at UVic for more than 30 years. In 2014, with declining health, Dowling passed his baton and music book to Paul Beauchesne, his former music student.

“One way or another, Tuba Christmas will go ahead this year,” said Beauchesne, who organizes the event, teaches at UVic and is also principal tubist with the symphony.

The 2020 concert will be chamber style. Beauchesne will be playing instead of conducting. He and six of his music students will be joined by two brass players from the symphony and a tuba player from the Naden band.

“Many people have said they would love to play but I’ve been turning people away because we have to keep it small,” Beauchesne said. “Most are now saying: ‘Well I guess I’ll just have to play along from home.’ A lot of people are planning to do that from the other side of the television screen.”

The number of musicians who can safely play is determined by the size of the stage, said Beauchesne. The musicians must be spaced three metres apart because forced air instruments can create small airborne droplets.

“So we’ll use an extra metre of distance and bell coverings, which I’ve been using in my classes,” he said.

The concert will hit all the traditional favourites like Jingle Bells, Joy to the World, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and We Three Kings.

“There’s a bunch of them that we just have to do.”

Tess van Straaten of CHEK News will welcome people to the concert and introduce the program. Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and Bradley Dick, who is of Lekwungen, Ditidaht and Da’naxda’xw ancestry, have recorded special messages. Jack Knox will regale us with a Christmas story and tenor Benjamin Butterfield, associate chair of UVic’s School of Music, will read a poem.

Best of all, Times Colonist publisher Dave Obee will remind us that the concert is a fundraiser for the Times Colonist Christmas Fund.

“That’s one of the main reasons I wanted to try and do something this year. I know the Times Colonist Christmas Fund is going to be much-needed this year, even more so than other years,” Beauchesne said. “So I thought having an event that brings it to the public eye would be important.”

Almost $600,000 of the $700,000 has been raised for the Christmas Fund so far this year — the highest total to date.

“It’s really neat to see the community coming together to support it like that. And if we can do a little bit to help and keep the tradition of Tuba Christmas going in a reduced way, we’ll be really happy,” Beauchesne said. “It’s nice to feel like you can do something.”



To contribute to the Times Colonist Christmas Fund, go to timescolonist.com/donate. That will take you to the Canada Helps website, which is open 24 hours a day and provides an immediate tax receipt.

Or mail a cheque, payable to the Times Colonist Christmas Fund Society, to the Times Colonist Christmas Fund, 201-655 Tyee Road, Victoria V9A 6X5.

Or use your credit card by phoning 250-995-4438 between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., Monday through Friday. Outside those hours, messages will be accepted.

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