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Release: Nov. 27, 2002

(Photo, top: Robert Yeats will lead the University of Iowa Collegium Tubum in their annual Holiday Concert for the last time this year, starting at 12:30 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 13, in front of Macbride Hall on the UI campus; Bottom: players in the 2001 holiday performance. Click on photos for high resolution versions.)

Tubist Yeats Takes Final Bow As Santa Dec. 13

For at least 25 years -- or maybe more, nobody seems to know for sure -- Robert Yeats and the tuba players at the University of Iowa School of Music have played carols and other Holiday songs on the Pentacrest on the last day of fall semester classes.

That’s right: tubas and similar instruments oompah-ing songs like “Jingle Bells,” outdoors, in the cold weather. It has a sound all its own -- not the freezing tubas, the sound of gloved hands clapping.

For Yeats, who has announced an early retirement at the end of the current academic year, this year’s performance -- at 12:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 13, somewhere on the Pentacrest -- will be his last.

“We’re gonna’ go at it one more time,” Yeats said “Most likely it will be over by Macbride Hall, due to the construction at Old Cap’.”

As for his pending retirement, Yeats is looking forward to escaping the chill of Iowa Decembers. “I’m hoping to hang up my Santa Suit and, for a change, spend the last day of classes someplace warm next year,” he said.

When asked about the history of this venerable tradition, Yeats isn’t sure how long he has been “going at it.” “Actually, I can't remember exactly how many years we’ve been doing this,” he admits. “If you breath deeply long enough in the cold air it does something to your brain.”

To set the record straight, Yeats joined the UI faculty in 1973, which would make 29 years of caroling tubas.

Over the years, Yeats has built up a large community of performers. Depending on the weather, from 15 to 30 players of the tuba and the closely related euphonium participate each year. Yeats estimates that a cumulative total of 200-300 students and community members have played in the annual events, including some working people who take the day off to join forces with the Collegium Tubum, as he calls the loose organization.

Yeats has accumulated a library of more than 40 tuba arrangements of carols and other holiday music, both secular and sacred. The repertoire includes not only familiar Christmas carols and secular songs of the season, but also music from “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and Christmas TV specials by the Chipmunks.

To heighten the festive spirit of the event, ensemble members customarily decorate their instruments, and some wear costumes. Yeats, who traditionally leads the ensemble in a Santa Claus suit, says that some tubists have performed with Rudolf antlers and red noses, but they quickly discover how hard it is to play a tuba while wearing a fake nose.

The nature and duration of the event depends a great deal on the weather. Some years frigid temperatures have forced the group to perform in tag-team fashion, with members periodically retreating indoors to un-freeze their valves. “There's so much metal there that everything gets cold,” Yeats explains. “You’re wrapped up in 20-30 pounds of metal.”

Naturally, Yeats is hoping for one of winter’s warmer days for his swan song, but he says that, like the postal service, the Collegium Tubum will deliver regardless of the weather.

The music to be performed will include familiar Christmas carols and other seasonal favorites and, as always, a surprise or two for those hardy enough to show up for the alfresco performance.

Asked about the future of this unique event, Yeats says the students may carry the tradition forward, but that it might take another form. “Tuba players just don’t think that far ahead,” he said.

Yeats teaches tuba and euphonium at the UI School of Music. He has been a member of the Iowa Brass Quintet since 1969 and was a founding member of the Cedar Rapids Chamber Brass and the Iowa Chamber Players. He has appeared as a soloist and member of the brass section of many professional bands, orchestras and quintets, and played for 19 years with the Cedar Rapids Symphony.

Yeats is well known as a clinician, having appeared at the William Bell Festival in Iowa, as well as at schools, colleges and music camps nationally. He has toured nationally and recorded with the Iowa Brass Quintet on the Trilogy, CRI and University of Iowa Press labels.

His work at the UI includes supervision of the UI Wind Library, editing the “University of Iowa Guide to Wind and Percussion Literature,” coaching chamber music ensembles, conducting the Collegium Tubum and teaching classes in brass literature and music education. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Ithaca College and master’s degrees from the UI.

The School of Music is part of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

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