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Horns aplenty

Holiday favorite got its start at Eastwood Mall

YOUNGSTOWN — The hills may not necessarily be alive with the sound of music, but Stambaugh Auditorium certainly was.

“I played the tuba in fifth grade; I actually learned to play it by ear, and I got better in my senior and junior years,” Steven Notman, 18, a Hubbard High School senior, remembered.

It’s probably safe to say that hundreds of people enjoyed his musical acumen, because Notman was among an estimated 85 tuba, sousaphone, baritone horn, euphonium and B-flat British horn players who entertained them during the annual TubaChristmas concert Sunday afternoon at Stambaugh.

Musicians of all ages, musical experiences and backgrounds packed the stage for the free one-hour holiday-themed performance, which featured their interpretations of a variety of well-known holiday tunes. The age range of this year’s musicians was 11 to 68, Wes O’Connor, director of bands at Austintown Fitch High School and the show’s conductor, said.

Notman, who felt confidence in place of stage fright, said he normally plays a concert tuba, but switched to the sousaphone because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused a shortage of his main instrument.

Also happy to be versatile with her instrument choice was Jorja Bonar, 17, of Vienna, who played the baritone horn for Sunday’s performance. Normally she plays the trumpet.

“I wanted to try something different. I just like playing instruments,” said Jorja, who began playing the piano with her grandfather, from which a love of music developed and blossomed.

Jorja, a Mathews High School student, also credited her band director, David Ottney, for his encouragement.

The concert began with the holiday favorites, “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “Deck the Halls” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” Closing out the performance was “Jingle Bells,” which was played twice.

In between, the selections included “Go Tell it on the Mountain,” “Angels We have Heard on High” and “Carol of the Bells.” One of the biggest crowd pleasers was “Santa Wants a Tuba for Christmas,” which also featured humorous lyrics and a bit of laughter.

On a sobering note, the musicians twice played “Silent Night,” which was dedicated to those who have lost loved ones and for whom the holidays can be especially difficult. During the second version, some in the audience quietly sang.

“It’s a good way to start off the holiday season,” Dani Dier, Stambaugh’s chief business officer, said about the performance, which also was live-streamed.

The performers, some of whom are music teachers and band directors, had a short rehearsal time before the program began, she added.

The local TubaChristmas performances debuted in 1999 at the Eastwood Mall in Niles, but grew to where they needed to be moved to the former Eastwood Expo Center, which had more space. For the last eight years, Stambaugh Auditorium has been home to the revered program, O’Connor noted.

In addition to providing a dose of holiday cheer, the performances also offer opportunities to showcase the beauty of combined tuba and euphonium music, O’Connor continued.

The longtime band director also left no doubt regarding his feelings about Sunday’s effort and others.

“Every concert I do, I leave totally excited,” he said. “I may not get any sleep tonight.”

TubaChristmas, which has been a local tradition for more than 20 years, began Dec. 22, 1974, in New York City’s Rockefeller Plaza Ice Rink. Harvey G. Phillips conceived of the idea to honor William Bell, his tuba teacher.

Today, the concerts, which are the property of the Harvey Phillips Foundation, are played in hundreds of cities worldwide. At least 16 take place in the weeks preceding Christmas in Ohio, O’Connor noted.

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