Village Life: 85 tubas and a corny sing-a-long one secret to holiday cheer

By Jan Worth-Nelson

Let’s face it–you can’t not smile when singing “Jingle Bells” with 85 tubas as your back-up group.

Young musician obscured by Yule-festooned horn (Photo by Jan Worth-Nelson)

I love Tuba Christmas, in all its kitschy Baby Jesus/Virgin Mary/Hark the Heralds/Deck the Halls tradition, staged every mid-December in the atrium of the Flint Farmers’ Market.  The gaudy brass of the sensually fat horns reflects all the other colors around it.   The booming bass tones massage the inside of the body–I’m pretty sure there’s science to say so.  And being in that big, bright room of the Market with a bunch of other humans stopping what they’re doing to sing Christmas carols together is something I look forward to every year.

Surveying the market crowd and his band of boomers, UM-Flint music professor Chris Heidenreich, the titan of Tuba Christmas, said Saturday’s 45th annual event was the largest turnout ever–both tubas and caroling audience.  His players, who’d assembled earlier that day for a brief rehearsal at UM – Flint, included horn players from as far away as East Jordan (John Bailey), and as close as UM-Flint;  UM – Flint students only had to cross First Street to join in.  Others came from area middle schools and colleges, including Swartz Creek, Davison, Carman-Ainsworth, Flushing and Kearsley high schools, Central Michigan University, UM — Ann Arbor, and more.

The sing-a-long song sheet unapologetically hit every traditional favorite from the Christian songbook  including Deck the Halls, The First Noel, O Christmas Tree, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Away in the Manger, O Come O Come Emanuel, We Three Kings, Silent Night, Jingle Bells. We didn’t sing any of the Christmas songs written by Jewish immigrants in the 20th Century–Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Winter Wonderland, the recently prissily skewered Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer–all of which I would have liked.   I don’t care about political correctness–I’d sing Hanukkah songs if I knew the words and if they had tubas arranged behind them.  I don’t care if there was or wasn’t a virgin birth (Think about it — who would have paid that woman’s Medicaid expenses, and how dare she sneak across the border, etc.).  I don’t care about the strict astronomy of “We Three Kings.” But I did laugh at Heidenreich’s concluding groaner joke:  “Why aren’t there any nativity scenes in Washington, D.C.?” Beat, beat.  “Because they can’t find three wise men.”  Badum-ching.

Yeah, it’s corny, but it’s also sweet.  Bottom line, who doesn’t need to warble along with the impossibly cheerful hopes of the Christmas songs:  that some little baby might be able to save us and in the meantime, while we’re attempting to rescue the planet to give him or her time to grow up, we’re going to take a break from doom and sing along with tubas.  Just for the fun of it.

Farmers’ Market patrons crowded the Market Atrium and the surrounding balcony as Chris Heidenreich kicks off “Joy to the World”) (Photo by Jan Worth-Nelson)
















Tuba Christmas shot contributed by College Cultural Neighborhood resident and photographer Edythe Peake, who also gave Jan Worth-Nelson a seat in the crowded atrium just in time to join the festivities.


John Bailey drives 200 miles one way from East Jordan to participate in Tuba Christmas (Photo by Jan Worth-Nelson)



John Buckner of North Branch demonstrates the appropriate holiday topper and enthusiasm (Photo by Jan Worth-Nelson)


(Photo by Jan Worth-Nelson)


(Photo by Jan Worth-Nelson)

EVM Editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at





Author: East Village Magazine

A Non-profit, Community News Magazine Since 1976

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