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Big brass throw big bash in CdA

Sam Blumenthal and 70 other tuba players perform on Sunday at the Coeur d'Alene Resort . 
 (Joe Barrentine / The Spokesman-Review)
Sam Blumenthal and 70 other tuba players perform on Sunday at the Coeur d'Alene Resort . (Joe Barrentine / The Spokesman-Review)

When the term heavy metal was coined, no one was envisioning 70 tuba players.

But that was how John Huenink referred to the assemblage of instruments as he talked to more than 200 people gathered on the lawn at the Coeur d’Alene Resort for a free performance Sunday.

The Harvey Phillips Big Brass Bash was the 20th annual concert for the group, which originated in Spokane as Octubafest. The tuba players perform throughout the Northwest each year, but wanted to commemorate their anniversary by performing where they started.

Marches, hymns and patriotic tunes delighted the audience, some of whom were just passing through.

Annie and Chris Hale stopped in Coeur d’Alene during their road trip back to New Hampshire, and happened upon the concert.

“This is great,” said Annie Hale, 67, who plays the accordion in a band. “I love the music, and love music outside,” referring to the sunshine and warm weather that accompanied the noon concert held next to Lake Coeur d’Alene.

Hale’s husband, Chris, who also plays the accordion, called the concert “spectacular.”

The namesake of the event, Harvey Phillips, flew in from Indiana for the show.

“What Lee Iacocca is to Chrysler, he is to tubas,” Tom Phillips said of his dad.

Harvey Phillips has performed as a soloist throughout the world, according to his biography on the Indiana University Web site. He started his career as a tuba player with the Barnum & Bailey Circus Band as a teenager in 1950.

He is founder and president of the Harvey Phillips Foundation Inc., which supports musical groups including the Big Brass Bash and TubaChristmas, which is known for its performances in New York City’s Rockefeller Plaza.

“You couldn’t isolate any other instrument and get such a variation of sounds,” Harvey Phillips said Sunday.

“I couldn’t have imagined you could make a whole concert out of tubas,” said Spokane resident Shelley O’Rourke, whose 11-year-old son was the youngest tuba player who performed in the gig.

Coeur d’Alene resident Carl Grisier described the concert as “an eye-opener. The sound is surprisingly smooth and mellow,” when compared with the blat of a tuba in a marching band.

“I think we accomplished winning a few more people over” for tubas, Harvey Phillips said.

There were seven types of tubas used in the concert, including the euphonium, sousaphone and an ophicleide, to create a range of tones.

The players ranged from 11 to 83 years old and came from as far away as New Jersey. Many were high school or college music teachers, but there were also two professionals – Patrick Sheridan and Sam Pilafian, of Phoenix.

For Tom Gavelin, the youngest tuba player, the experience of meeting fellow musicians was an inspiration and a great learning experience.

“I didn’t quite know how to play, but they helped me and I was actually able to play.

“It was awesomely fun,” Gavelin said.


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