CLEARWATER — Salvation Army bell ringers standing by red kettles are among the most familiar sights and sounds of the holiday season.
But don't be surprised if you hear something different than the traditional ring-a-ling.
Some of the bell ringers play trombones, tubas and other brass instruments.
"You see us every Christmas with our bells," said Sara Saunders, a captain in the local Salvation Army who oversees the bell ringers, "but we've also been playing brass instruments for over a hundred years."
Saunders said Clearwater has one of the largest Salvation Army bands in the area, about 45 members. The instruments, she said, are more effective than bells in getting kettle donations for Christmas meals, toys and clothing for people in need.
The horns, with their booming chords of Christmas music, naturally draw attention from passers-by, she said.
"The bandsmen also are in uniform," she said, "and that speaks volumes to people."
On any given day, Salvation Army representatives might be out and about with their trumpets, trombones, cornets, alto horns, baritones or euphoniums, a small brass instrument in the tuba family.
"The entire band played for the kettle recently in downtown Dunedin," she said.
One day last week, Lt. Col. Tom Jones played his trombone and retired Maj. Clyde Curnow performed with his tuba at a kettle in front of Sam's Club.
"I've been a member of the Salvation Army and a bandsman all my life," said Jones, 70. "I'm a fourth-generation Salvationist and my wife, Mary, is fifth generation."
Jones and Curnow both learned to play their instruments in the Salvation Army.
"They teach boys and girls to play brass instruments to accompany church services, perform at concerts and play for the public at Christmas," Jones said.
The festive tones of their horns immediately began drawing customers.
Saunders said Jones' experience is typical of band members. Almost all of them learned their instruments in the Salvation Army, she said, and usually at an early age.
Band member Brian Jubb, a native of Yorkshire, England, and part-time Clearwater resident, recently took out his alto horn in front the Publix at Sunset Point and U.S. 19 and, with the jaunty notes of Jingle Bells, began drawing customers to the kettle.
"I only play this horn here in the United States," he said, "because I can get it into my suitcase."
Jubb said he prefers the baritone horn, which is slightly larger, when in England.
As he played, shoppers pushed bills and coins into the kettle slot.
"It does very well," he said of the bright swinging kettle.
"God bless," he called out to the stream of donors.