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Classy and brassy
Gainesville State music director orchestrates Tuba Christmas event in Atlanta
Nearly 100 tuba players gathered at Underground Atlanta on Dec. 2 to play Christmas carols in the annual Tuba Christmas event.

While holiday tunes are a staple this time of year, they're typically played with trumpets or violins.

But Gainesville State College music instructor Don Strand has helped to adjust that image.

Each year, Strand organizes "Tuba Christmas" in Atlanta, an event that highlights instruments in the tuba family.

"The one in Atlanta was basically the first one south of the Mason-Dixon line," Strand said.

Stand is generally known by his students as "the teacher who recorded on Bruce Springsteen's Devils and Dust album." But they also recognize his hard work in preparing the annual concert, this year held Dec. 2.

"The event has grown over the years, but it's always kind of varied. The first year we had only 75 but we've had as many as 300," Strand said.

This year's event carried some extra emotion when Harvey Phillips, the founder of Tuba Christmas and Strand's mentor, died earlier this year after battling Parkinson's disease.

Phillips created Tuba Christmas in 1974 as a tribute to the late musician William J. Bell and his support of tuba and euphonium players everywhere, Strand said.

Today, there are more than 157 Tuba Christmas events held worldwide.

"For a long time he would come to the Atlanta event. It was one of his favorite ones," Strand said of Phillips.

In early December, tuba players massed by the dozens at Underground Atlanta to play a medley of carols and other festive favorites such as "Angels We've Heard on High." A crowd of over 200 lined the bridge of Upper Alabama Street to view the concert.

Strand said the event draws a mix of tuba, tenor tuba and euphonium players. It also included many of Strand's students at Gainesville State College.

To help promote the event, Strand and a few of his students recently appeared on the "Better Mornings Atlanta" show segment on WGCL-TV and played a sampling of their songs.
"It was exciting. I don't think the students ever had a chance to play on television before," Strand said.

Strand said he will continue his work highlighting the low brass instrument during Christmas time. And next year he plans to add something a little extra for Atlanta's 25th Tuba Christmas.