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Tubameisters' put on huge holiday blowout at the Arneson River Theatre

The Tubameisters Christmas at the Arneson River Theatre
Claudia Pegues Barlow
The Tubameisters Christmas at the Arneson River Theatre

Holiday season on the River Walk means music... but not just any music. Oddly, here in San Antonio, it means big, bold, tuba music.

Some tourists in the Alamo City get a big surprise every December when taking a barge ride on the River Walk. It must be odd, passing under the Commerce Street bridge, hearing music in the distance. It gets louder as they pass by the Hilton Palacio Del Rio, then as they round the bend near the Arneson River Theatre, they see what they’ve been hearing: The Tubameisters.

2014 Tubameister Christmas 04 Silent Night

“Oh, we definitely get some interesting reactions, particularly from the people on the barges,” said Ray Grimm, who created the Tubameisters

Grimm is a retired high school band director who likes all music, but particularly music played on one instrument.

“The tuba gets… I'm looking for the proper word here…we get categorized as kind of less than the rest of the ensemble, but I often say to students that I work with, they really do need to understand how important that baseline really is,” Grimm said.

Tubas round out the bottom end of whatever music is being played. But once a year, just once here in San Antonio, they take center stage.

2014 Tubameister Christmas 07 Carol of the Bells

“One of our purposes really is to give people who play these instruments a chance to be in the spotlight for a change,” he said.

They don’t just take center stage, though. They take the entire stage. Because other than tubas, and baritone horns, you won’t find anything else at the Arneson River Theatre. No violins or cellos. It’s all the big horns. And a lot of them.

“We have had in excess of 200 people playing, and amazingly, there's room for us, and audience there at the Arneson. Just barely sometimes,” Grimm said.

It all happens at the Arneson, and Grimm said its unusual construction, with the river running through it, makes this an even more special event.

“Oh, absolutely. I think it's one of the treasures of San Antonio, Texas,” he said. “With the Arneson River Theatre, there's a stage on one side of the river and the audience sits on the other side.”

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So at barge-riders’ left an audience of several hundred watches them chug by, and on the right, 200 tuba players are serenading them. And this year, Grimm said there's something extra special.

“This year, depending on the bowl situation for UTSA, their tuba euphonium ensemble — they call themselves The Boom Squad — they will be part of what we're doing and will do a few feature pieces themselves,” he said.

UTSA Boom Squad, The Barber of Seville

Grimm said this event, and music in general makes him feel more alive.

“I've been playing since I was in the sixth grade,” he said. “I have a lot of gray hair on my head and six grandchildren. I still play and I play because it's one of the most amazing things in my life, and music has enriched my life to no end.”

The Tubameisters have, over time, turned this into a long-running San Antonio holiday tradition.

“We're on our 42nd year, I believe,” Grimm said. “We've done the Alamo Plaza, we've done in the Main Plaza, but we been at the Arneson now for probably half of that 40-something years.”

2014 Tubameister Christmas 06 Jingle Bells

So those there at noon on Saturday, Dec. 18, won’t be dashing through the snow in a one-horse open sleigh, but there will be something oh-so-Christmassy, hearing tubas below the palm trees on the River Walk.

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Jack Morgan can be reached at jack@tpr.org and on Twitter at @JackMorganii