Denver’s Tuba Christmas: Heavy Metal for the Holidays

I like quirky events—in any part of the world. They highlight lesser-known facets of our culture, reminding me that there’s so much diversity in any given country, state, or city.

A tuba player gets in the spirit of the season during downtown Denver’s annual Tuba Christmas concert. About 250 tubas participated in this year’s event. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Denver, for example, isn’t just a Broncos-watching, ski-crazy, cowboy-hat-wearing Western metropolis. It’s got plenty of arts and culture: a symphony, opera and ballet companies, jazz clubs, a theatre complex, art galleries.

And then there are the tubas.

Yes, every December, literally hundreds of tubas and their variants serenade downtown Denver with Christmas carols played in the surprisingly mellow tones of these unwieldy low-brass instruments.

In an orchestra, tubas are tucked in the back of the ensemble because, really, no one could see the conductor if the tuba sat farther forward. So it’s satisfying when the tuba get its moment in the spotlight at the annual Tuba Christmas. (Full disclosure: I play bassoon, another orchestral bass instrument, so I have an affinity for tubas. We rarely get showy solos, but a symphony wouldn’t sound the same without us!)

Imagine the delight of the masses this year when a choir of 250 tubas gathered in their Santa hats to play harmonious renditions of “Joy to the World,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Feliz Navidad,” and “Silent Night.”

Trust me, your Christmas is not complete without the bass, baritone, and tenor tones of tubas.

A pair of euphoniums were introduced at the annual Tuba Christmas concert. ©Ken Aikin

In 2018, Denver’s annual Tuba Christmas concert takes place on December 16 at the Denver Performing Arts Complex in downtown. Featuring tuba players from all over the region—and a few from other states, including New York—Tuba Christmas is one of the most celebrated and longest-running holiday festivities in Colorado.

When we went a few years ago, my husband (who plays trumpet, the highest voice of the brass section) and I elbowed our way through a crowd of around 500 people to get closer to the low-brass ensemble, many of whom wore Tuba Christmas stocking caps and decked out their instrument with seasonal décor. (There is nothing bah-humbug about these tubas!)

The Biggest Concert of the Year

Tuba Christmas was founded by the Harvey Phillips Foundation, which focuses on developing, expanding, and preserving the musical arts—with special attention given to instruments not ordinarily the “object of other support.” (Ahem…this means that despite their size, tubas get overlooked.) The first Tuba Christmas was held in New York City’s Rockefeller Plaza Ice Rink in 1974. Today, concerts take place across the globe.

In addition to conducting merry carols—many of us crowd members sang along— retired music professor Bill Clark introduced the metallic musicians with the assistance of Jeanie Schroder, the tuba player in indie-pop group DeVotchka. Playing with 2014’s Tuba Christmas were tuba players from schools and colleges all over the state. They ranged from age 7 to 90, and quite a few multigenerational families performed. Clearly, tuba players enjoy longevity and musical genes.

In addition, we audience members learned that tubas come in all shapes and sizes. There were traditional bass tubas that consist of 18 feet of tubing. There were flashy sousaphones—the ones seen in marching bands with the huge bells that usually spell out the name of a high school mascot. There were euphoniums, sometimes called “tenor tubas,” which look like mini-tubas. A few double-belled euphoniums were present; the joke is they can play duets with themselves.

I believe it’s impossible to listen to a multitude of tubas playing Christmas carols without smiling, singing, and even dancing around. If you don’t believe me, see for yourself! Tuba Christmas always takes place in Denver on the third Sunday of December—snow or shine.

Let heaven and tubas sing!

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Denver’s 2014 Tuba Christmas concert attracted tuba, euphonium, and sousaphone players of all ages from all over the country. Onlookers enjoyed singing along.  ©Laurel Kallenbach

 

 

 

 

The Wild Life of Rocky Mountain National Park

When I was a kid, family vacations always involved camping at state and national parks. We lived in Louisville, Kentucky, where our interaction with wildlife was limited to sightings of cardinals, robins, squirrels, lightning bugs, cicadas, garter snakes, and the occasional raccoon.

A bull elk crosses Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park as travelers gawk in awe. ©Kelly Prendergast

A bull elk crosses Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park as visitors gawk in awe. ©Kelly Prendergast

That’s probably the wildlife status of most people, but if you visit national parks, the repertoire of wildlife expands dramatically. Eagles, marmots, prairie dogs, bears, coyotes, antelope, manatee, wolves, herons, pine marten, wolverines, mountain lions, vultures, bighorn sheep, sand cranes.

Now I live in Colorado, where I have easy access to nearby Rocky Mountain National Park, which received 4.4 million human visitors in 2017. People from all over the world travel to the peaks and alpine meadows hungering for nature and hoping to spot the state flower, the columbine, and wild animals. The bigger, the better.

In summer, there’s bumper-to-bumper traffic on Trail Ridge Road, which runs through Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s the highest continuous motorway in the United States, with a maximum elevation of 12,183 feet. There are frequent pullovers and parking areas along Trail Ridge Road so you can get out and marvel atthe spectacular views of the powerful mountain ranges around you.

Visitors in a parking lot along Trail Ridge Road photograph the passing elk herd. ©Kelly Prendergast

Visitors in a parking lot along Trail Ridge Road photograph the passing elk herd. ©Kelly Prendergast

Surprised by Moose

In July, my husband and friends went hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park to enjoy the scenery and escape the heat of the city. They weren’t surprised to encounter deer and elk along the way. My parents live in the town of Estes Park, the gateway to the eastern entrance of Rocky Mountain Park. In Estes Park, herds of elk and deer hang out in their neighborhood subdivision and the nearby golf course. Once a bobcat took a nap on my parents’ deck. Coyotes occasionally hunt deer near their house. Beaver used to build dams along Fish Creek until the 2013 flood turned the placid stream into a river. (A few tentative beaver seem to be moving back in and engineering their water lodges.)

My husband and our friend Kelly Prendergast (who took the photos for the blog) drove in the early morning over Trail Ridge Road to the west side of the Continental Divide for their hike. (Locals know that to beat the traffic into the park, you have to get up at dawn. Rocky Mountain’s Bear Lake parking lot routinely fills up with cars by 7:00 a.m. And it’s not unusual to encounter a queue of a hundred or more cars lined up at the Park Entrance by 9:00 a.m. to pay the fee to get in.

On any given summer day, park visitors should expect to have abundant, repeated sightings of herds of wild Homo sapiens.

This Mama Moose was on alert as hikers stumbled upon her and her baby. The hikers stopped, turned away and took a different path so as not to disturb the family. ©Kelly Prendergast

This Mama Moose was on alert as hikers came near her and her baby. The hikers stopped, turned away and took a different path so as not to disturb the family. ©Kelly Prendergast

Yet despite the crush of sunscreen-slathered, photo-snapping, soda-slurping humanity, Rocky Mountain Park usually delivers actual encounters with magnificent quadrupeds. When they reached their trailhead, Ken and friends were surprised to see a mother and baby moose, just standing there. Moose can be very dangerous, especially moms with young, so all the hikers kept quiet and moved slowly so as not to alarm the massive animals, and let them move along as they pleased.

Just a bit later, on another fork in the trail, another pair of moose appeared! That’s the magic of the wilderness, and generally moose prefer to be in quieter, more marshy areas of the park. (And by quiet, I mean there are fewer bipeds.)

Another female moose nuzzles her long-legged offspring right at the trailhead to Green Mountain. ©Kelly Prendergast

Another female moose nuzzles her long-legged offspring right at the trailhead to Green Mountain. ©Kelly Prendergast

Elk, on the other hand, are abundant even in areas where there are a lot of people. When a muscle-bound elk bull packing a full rack of sharp antlers decides to walk in front of your car, you let him! In Rocky Mountain Park, if traffic slows and cars get jumbled on the sides of lanes, you can be sure it’s an elk jam—even if you’re too far away to see the mammals. Courageous tourists get out of their cars to shoot videos; the more timid remain in their cars and peep wide-eyed through the windows.

I can’t say I’m super comfortable with 4.4 million of my own species in a land preserve for wild flora and fauna. Most of us visitors are not indigenous to these lands, and it breaks my heart when tiny tundra flowers are trodden. But I get it: People crave the outdoors; they love to breathe fresh, pine-needle-scented air and to jump on rocks or wade across a glacier stream. To be in nature is to feel alive—to become a T-shirt-wearing creature of the wilderness for an hour or two, or eight or ten.

This is why we need national parks—to strip off neckties and power suits—and rediscover our own nature, our own inner moose or magpie, elk or hawk or chipmunk. In nature, we commune with our planet and its infinite diversity. And we’re all better for it.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Moose Crossing: This species loves marshes and lakes. This moose was spotted in the Colorado River along Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. ©Kelly Prendergast

Moose Crossing: This species loves marshes and lakes. My husband and friends spotted this moose in the Colorado River along Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. ©Kelly Prendergast

 

 

 

 

Fresh Farm-to-Library Fare Served at Seeds Café in Boulder

I stopped into the Boulder Public Library yesterday to have coffee with a friend at Seeds Library Café and wound up having an iced latte and this gorgeous, mouthwatering Fruit Salad with Chèvre.

The Summer Fruit Salad with Chèvre at Seeds Library Café ©Laurel Kallenbach

The Summer Fruit Salad with Chèvre at Seeds Library Café ©Laurel Kallenbach

All the organic veggies are fresh from the Boulder County Farmer’s Market, which runs the café. This eye-popping salad contains Colorado peaches and cantaloupe, various radishes, summer greens, cucumbers, and Haystack goat chèvre. It was artistically arranged by one of the courteous staff, who topped off the colorful combo with edible flowers.

Seasonal soups, sandwiches, and baked goodies are all available to purchase at Seeds Library Café. And the seating—where you can read books while you sip or eat!—overlooks Boulder Creek, which flows beneath the bridgeway that connects the north and south sides of the library.

In July 2017, there’s construction around the library, so the view isn’t as tranquil or lovely as usual, but I couldn’t take my eyes off this salad, so I barely noticed!

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

River & Woods Chef Gets Creative with Sustainably Caught Fish

I didn’t even know I liked mackerel, much less sardines. But Chef Daniel Asher, of Boulder, Colorado’s River and Woods restaurant made me a convert—and proved his prowess in the kitchen.

Chef Daniel Asher, of River and Woods restaurant in Boulder, started a summer luncheon with sustainable Bela sardines and a smorgasbord of other complementary flavors. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Chef Daniel Asher, of River and Woods restaurant in Boulder, started a summer luncheon with sustainable Bela sardines and a smorgasbord of other complementary flavors. ©Laurel Kallenbach

At a special event, Asher showed off the Bela Seafood line, a family-owned business that has fished off the Algarve coast of Portugal for generations. Bela’s tuna, mackerel, and sardines are certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council.

“I’m always on the lookout for sustainably produced foods that are truly delicious,” says Asher. “We cook sustainably here at River and Woods, but flavor comes first, so we’re very picky.”

Chef Daniel Asher ©Laurel Kallenbach

Chef Daniel Asher ©Laurel Kallenbach

Apparently, Bela’s fish—which comes packed in organic extra-virgin olive oil in cans or jars—passed the Asher test. And, as it turns out, mine. Chef Asher started us out with sardines, presented on a gorgeous smorgasbord table with smashed avocado, baby kale, fresh lemon, crisp-fried onions, and nori, with which we could make little sardine burritos.

Hesitantly, I chose a small sardine in olive oil with organic piri-piri (an African chili pepper used in Portugal) and drenched it with lemon and added avocado. To my surprise, the sardine was mild, and I went back for seconds!

Grilled sardines, flavorful chowders, mackerel, tuna are the local dishes in the Algarve, Portugal’s hottest tourist destination. (Someday, when I visit the Algarve, I’m told I must try the cataplana—a combination of sausage, clams, and ham stirred together with paprika, onions and coriander.) Of course, sardines are the staple of almost every dish in coastal Portugal.

And here’s the scoop on Bela’s sardines: they’re wild-caught by purse-seine netting, washed by hand, and then cooked prior to canning. They’re hand-packed within hours of the catch and never frozen. And these little fish are good for you: A serving of sardines delivers 11 grams of protein, omega-3s, vitamin D and calcium all in one, low-calorie meal!

A Tuna Waldorf Salad featuring Bela skipjack tuna: yet another of Chef Asher's sustainable creations. ©Laurel Kallenbach

A Tuna Waldorf Salad featuring Bela skipjack tuna: yet another of Chef Asher’s sustainable creations. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Bring on the Seafood

Next Chef Asher served bamboo cones filled with a Bela Skipjack Tuna Waldorf Salad with cinnamon-coated almonds, mizuna, Just Mayo vegan “mayonnaise,” rosemary-olive oil “caviar” and local carrot shavings. All of us “samplers” raved over this whimsical salad. And the tuna is pole-and-line caught.

Finally the pièce de résistance: Mackerel Paella that blended Mediterranean influences such as charred Valencia oranges with Colorado-grown quinoa and gourmet mushrooms from Mile-High Fungi. The mackerel was wonderful, and this oily fish is also earning kudos for its high omega-3 content.

Paella with Bela-brand mackerel at River and Woods ©Laurel Kallenbach

Paella with Bela-brand mackerel at River and Woods ©Laurel Kallenbach

Come on Over to River and Woods

Aside from enjoying the wonderful, sustainable fish dishes, I loved spending some time at River and Woods. The creators behind the restaurant strive for sustainable and local ingredients, and this friendly eatery aspires to creating what they call “community-sourced cuisine,” featuring Colorado comfort foods with innovative twists. For instance, meatloaf gets a makeover, and voilà, you’ve got Lamb and Oat Meatloaf with pumpkin-seed salsa verde and crispy sweet-potato bites. And don’t miss the Seasonal Deviled Eggs with rosemary oil pearls, English peas, breakfast radish, pea shoots, and microgreens.

In summer, you can catch live music in River and Woods’ “backyard’ dining area on Wednesday nights. And chances are I’ll be there too!

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

More about restaurants that serve sustainable seafood:

Portugal's Algarve Region: where Bela Seafood is caught and packaged. This is Marinha Beach, a popular tourist spot. Photo Turismo de Portugal

Portugal’s Algarve Region: where Bela Seafood is caught and packaged. This is Marinha Beach, a popular tourist spot. Photo Turismo de Portugal