KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A sea of tuba players rattled the ornaments on the tree at Crown Center Square Friday afternoon, belting out Christmas tunes to standing room crowds.

Now, this was no spontaneous event. It was, in fact, the annual Kansas City TubaChristmas concert, a nearly half-century tradition involving the Kansas City Symphony.

Event coordinators say 640 musicians participated in this year’s event. In the crowd there are a handful of first-timers including Edwin Reed, a 7th grader at Summit Lakes Middle School.

“If you want to make a lower note you kind of drop your jaw, and if you want to make a higher note you set your embouchure like pffff,” he said, making a tight-lipped blowing noise.

“[you do that] instead of brrrr to make it higher pitched,” he said, making a looser-lipped blowing noise. “And then you just move different fingers to play different notes.”

Reed picked up the tuba last year. At a quarter of his body weight – it was a big decision.

“I just thought it was cool. I wanted to be like a low brass and it just seemed like the type of instrument for me,” Reed said.

And the first-timers come in all kinds. The white-bearded Vern Olsen was not the oldest musician there but his instrument was certainly the most unique in the tuba-theme.

“I made it. It’s made out of cedar pickets,” Olsen said with a laugh.”

“It’s an ophicleide. Or it’s actually my version of an ophicleide. And I didn’t know what I was doing when I built it. So I didn’t know how big the holes to make,” Olsen said.

“I did get one thumbs up from a guy who knew what it was. You could just tell he knew,” Olsen said.

Olsen’s wooden instrument gives flavor to the stew of brass – a unique experience for all of the musicians, some decorated in Christmas lights and wrapping paper but all out in the cold.

“In a regular class, you don’t have that many. We only had four. Some classes have one, two, three. It’s just cool and weird because you don’t normally play with this much and you don’t hear that much power from the low brass,” Reed said.

The first Kansas City TubaChristmas was held back in 1979. It’s been a staple – held in one form or another every year since.

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