Tree of the Year 1988: Monterey Cypress

Massive tree planted in 1905.
See the tree in 1915, 2001 & 2020.
In front of Briscoe School.
Ashland’s first Tree of the Year!

I have been impressed by the huge Monterey cypress in front of Briscoe School ever since I moved to Ashland in 1991. It is an awe-inspiring sight along North Main Street. 

Ashland Tree of the Year 1988
Monterey Cypress, Tree of the Year 1988. This photo was taken in 2020. (photo by Peter Finkle)

Did you know that Ashland has a Tree of the Year?

Did you know that Ashlanders vote each year to choose one Tree of the Year? Years ago, when I first heard about our Tree of the Year tradition, I was happy to learn that the voters’ very first choice – in 1988 – was this Monterey cypress. I will share a little of this tree’s story with you, including photos from 1915, 2001 and 2021.

Our 1988 Tree of the Year grows at the corner of North Main Street and Laurel Street. This corner was part of early Ashland, all the way back to the 1860s. This is far from the oldest tree in Ashland, but it has lived more than 115 years. The sign on the tree says it was planted in 1905 by Ross Eliason. Ross was an early Ashlander and an active member of the First Methodist Church across the street from the Monterey cypress tree. I visited the church to see what I could learn. 

Former church member David Mason told me: “Somewhere in my archives is an autobiography written by Ross Eliason. Myself and another Ashland tree commission member cut the sidewalk around that cypress tree in 1992 or so and we put up a brass plaque on the tree. Don’t remember what it said.”

Ashland Tree of the Year 1988
This photo shows how the sidewalk was cut around the base of the trunk.
(photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

The brass plaque is still there, so you can see for yourself what it says.

Ashland Tree of the Year 1988
Plaque on Tree of the Year 1988 says: “Cypress, Planted April 1905 by Ross Eliason.”
(photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

The tree in 1915

We are fortunate to have a 1915 photo of the old West Side School, which was at this site before Briscoe School. On the left edge of the photo is a small tree (see arrow), which must be the young ten-year-old Monterey Cypress.

Ashland Tree of the Year 1988
This photo of the West Side School (where Briscoe School is now) was taken in 1915. The red arrow points to the 10-year-old Monterey Cypress. It has grown a lot in the past 106 years! (photo at the City of Ashland website, Tree Commission section; from the Terry Skibby collection)

About 40 feet up in the tree, “There are millions of ants, biting ants!”

Casey Roland

Tips from arborist Casey Roland

I visited the tree with arborist Casey Roland. He told me that he climbed way up into this tree to prune it a couple times when he worked for Tom Myers at Upper Limb It. I learned a lot as I listened to him.

First, I learned something that surprised me. The “center” of the large Monterey Cypress branch that was cut in the early 2000s is not at the center! The hardest core wood for supporting the branch is very close to the top. Casey pointed to the branch’s core wood in this photo. 

Ashland Tree of the Year 1988
In this photo, Casey Roland points to the location of the hardest core wood that supported this large branch that was cut off the Monterey Cypress. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

If you look closely at these photos, you can see that the annual rings of the branch growth are much more widely spaced toward the bottom of the branch than at the top. Casey said, “It’s the same number of growth rings top and bottom, just a difference in how close together they are.”

Ashland Tree of the Year 1988
This photo shows the annual growth rings of a large branch that was cut off the Monterey Cypress. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

I learned that when he prunes a Monterey Cypress, he cuts as few branches as possible. This is because the branches tend to overlap as they grow. When this happens, the branches support and protect each other. “The fuller you have the canopy, the less likely they are to break in a strong wind or after snowfall,” Casey said. 

The tree in 2001 and 2020

Heavy snow did severely damage the 1988 Tree of the Year sometime after the photo below was taken in 2001. You can see how full the tree was in 2001, from the top almost all the way to the ground. I took a photo in 2020 from almost the same spot as the 2001 photo. You can see that many lower branches were totally removed by 2020, and even some of the upper branches had to be cut back. The massive trunk now stands out more than it once did. The Monterey Cypress is not ‘the tree is once was,’ but it is still quite impressive.

Ashland Tree of the Year 1988
This photo of the Monterey Cypress in front of Briscoe School was taken in 2001. You can see how full the tree canopy is compared with the 2020 photo.
(photo from the City of Ashland website, Tree Commission section)
Ashland Tree of the Year 1988
This photo of the Monterey Cypress in front of Briscoe School was taken in 2020, from almost the same spot as the 2001 photo. You can see how many large branches the tree has lost since 2001 – but it is still massive. (photo by Peter Finkle)

Finally, another addition to my knowledge of trees. As I wrote above, Casey has been high in this tree. He told me that about 40 feet up in the tree, “There are millions of ants, biting ants!” That sounds very uncomfortable for the arborist. I got the impression that these ants live their entire lives up in the tree.

The natural home for Monterey Cypress trees

Monterey Cypress
1906 postcard of Monterey Cypress trees in their natural habitat in Monterey County, California. (postcard from Wikimedia Commons)

Monterey Cypress are naturalized only along the central coast of California, near Monterey. Hmm, I wonder how they got their name. These coastal trees are wind-blown from constant coastal breezes. As a result, they normally do not get very large or tall, and they tend to be gnarled in their growth patterns.  

Monterey Cypress
Monterey Cypress trees along the coast in Pebble Beach, California.
(photo by Amy Halverson, on Wikimedia Commons, 2008)

They now grow around the world

Monterey Cypress are now widespread in New Zealand and grow in many other countries around the world. They prefer cool summers and coastal areas, but as you can see from many healthy Monterey Cypress in Ashland, they are adaptable. 

For a “sneak preview” of my 2004 Tree of the Year article, you can visit the huge Monterey Cypress at the corner of Scenic Drive and Wimer Street. Why are these Ashland trees so large despite our hot summers? According to the San Francisco Botanical Garden website, “Monterey cypress that are planted in watered, protected areas away from the ocean grow bigger, taller and straighter.” Regarding water, Casey Roland believes that both the 1988 and 2004 Monterey Cypress Trees of the Year are growing above either a spring or an underground stream that nourishes their roots.

 A brief history of the site where this tree is growing

This tree has seen generations of Ashland students pass under its branches. However, a school was here even before the tree was planted, going all the way back to 1872. That is when Methodist minister J.H. Skidmore founded the Ashland Academy here. It was most likely a two-year college.  

Ashland Academy
The Ashland Academy, with students and faculty, in the 1890s. According to Southern Oregon Digital Archives, “The rock on the right of the image was used by children to mount horses and is presently located next to Briscoe School on Laurel Street.” (“This image is part of the Stories of Southern Oregon Collection in the Southern Oregon University. Hannon Library digital archives and made available by Southern Oregon University. Hannon Library.”)

The Academy failed financially, closed in 1879, then reopened in 1882. With a small boost due to recognition as a Normal School (a teacher training school) by the state of Oregon, the college had four teachers and 42 students in 1882. This ‘life’ of the college only lasted until 1890. However, Ashland’s college has had as many lives as a cat, and it finally settled in 1926 at its current location on Siskiyou Boulevard – as a Normal School, then a State College and now a University. 

A building here at North Main Street and Laurel Street replaced the Academy and was used for Ashland High School from 1890 until 1911. It was initially known as West Side School and later was called Washington School. By the 1940s, Washington School was in poor condition. Briscoe Elementary School was built here in 1949. Still here, it is not currently used as a school due to Ashland’s declining elementary school age population.

I think you will enjoy a brief visit to the 1890s, courtesy of the “horse mounting rock.” See the photo below.

Ashland Tree of the Year 1988
The rock used by Ashland Academy students of the late 1800s as a booster to help them mount horses is in the foreground of this photo. The 1988 Tree of the Year is behind it.
(photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

The Briscoe School logo 

Briscoe School
Briscoe School: 1997-1998 student directory. Note the Monterey Cypress tree logo. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

The majestic tree next to Briscoe School touched generations of school children, teachers and administrators. I learned from the mother of long-ago Briscoe students that it was even adopted as the school’s logo. Look at this Student Directory from 1997-1998. 

The Briscoe School song

Briscoe School had a school song, written by Jill Joos Rothman. It was called “Briscoe: Roots to the Future.” If you attended Briscoe, you may remember singing it. Here are the words to the chorus:

            Roots to the future, seeds in the past.
            Branches reaching to the sky.
            Knowledge we gain here will last and last.
            Briscoe will carry you inside.
            Briscoe will carry you inside.

There is our 1988 Tree of the Year again, part of the school song – “Branches reaching to the sky.”

Ashland Tree of the Year 1988
Looking up from the base of the Monterey Cypress, 1988 Tree of the Year. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

Introduction to our Tree of the Year program

Finally, I would like to introduce the Tree of the Year program for readers not familiar with it. The city Tree Commission was established by Ashland City Council in 1983. One of its first goals was to establish Arbor Day tree planting and education in town. A few years later, in 1988, the commission began the annual Tree of the Year tradition.

Each year, the Tree Commission collects Tree of the Year nominations from citizens. The nomination form on the city website says that “Nominated trees should be visible from the street and NOT located within a city park or right-of-way.” Commissioners visit the nominated trees and narrow the field to about five finalists. Then “we the people” make the final choice. Tree commissioners have told me that very few people vote for Tree of the Year. I hope my articles will increase interest and participation!

During the next few years, I will feature each Tree of the Year with its own photo essay. I will learn from arborists, historical research, tree websites, neighbors and more, then share what I learn with you. I also hope to learn stories about these special trees from readers.

In closing, I like this summary of the benefits of trees.

“From the Tree Commissioners: An ongoing responsibility of Ashland’s Tree Commission is to promote public awareness about the trees and associated ecosystems that comprise our community forest. All the city’s trees, shrubs or bushes, whether standing on public or private property, absorb water and prevent soil erosion, contribute oxygen to the local atmosphere and add plant matter that becomes compost in our soils. Trees, apart from these beneficial physical contributions to our environment, have long captivated humans with their graceful forms and silent beauty. Every time we appreciate their intricate shapes or seasonal colors, we realize again that trees bring a powerful if intangible richness into our daily lives.” [Todt & Holley] 

Ashland Tree of the Year 1988
Artistic photo of Ashland Tree of the Year 1988. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

References:

Anon. City of Ashland website, page with a link to photos of each Tree of the Year, many with a historical photo of the tree.

Anon. City of Ashland website, page with a photo and map location of each Tree of the Year.

Anon. San Francisco Botanical Garden website. (accessed June 2021)

Darling, John. “150 years of faith,” Ashland Tidings, Jul 10, 2014.

Holley, Bryan. Former Tree Commission member. Interview June 2021.

Mason, David. Personal communication, June 2021.

McKay, Dan. Personal communications, June 2021.

National Register of Historic Places, Skidmore-Academy Historic District, prepared August 1, 2000 by George Kramer with Kay Atwood.

O’Harra, Marjorie. Ashland: the first 130 years, Northwest Passages Publishing Inc. 1986.

Roland, Casey (arborist). Interview and personal communications, June 2021 and other dates.

Todt, Donn & Holley, Brian. “Understanding Ashland’s Green Heritage,” draft of article published in Ashland Daily Tidings, 2003, provided by Brian Holley. 

Ashland City Band: Typewriter concert and other stories (Part 3)

Three times through the 4th of July parade!
Typewriter as an instrument!
100-year-old City Band member.

This series of articles is based on an interview with three men who between them have 164 years of experience with the Ashland City Band, along with other research. 

4th of July parade story – three times through 

Who has been in Ashland’s 4th of July parade three different times in one parade? Only Raoul Maddox of the Ashland City Band. Here’s how it happened.

The Ashland City Band has led the 4th of July parade for decades. (photo by Peter Finkle)

First time through: The City Band has always marched at the front of the parade, right after the motorcycle police and color guard that lead the parade. Several band members have also been in the Firehouse 5 band that played the parade route on the back of a pickup truck or an old fire truck. 

Firehouse 5
Firehouse 5 in the Ashland 4th of July parade, circa 1965 – not the year Raoul Maddox was in the parade three times. (photo by Morgan Cottle)

Second time through: When Maddox was in the Firehouse 5 band, he kept his car on Water Street at the end of the parade route, then drove as fast as he could through the residential streets back to the parade starting point for his second time through. 

Now, third time through: For three years, in the late 1960s or early 1970s, there was also an Ashland High Alumni Band that marched in the parade. These were former high school band members who came together just for fun. Well, and also for the incentive of a keg of beer from Cook’s Tavern downtown after the parade, so they could “tip a glass or two with their old friends.” During these years, Maddox somehow had to make it back to the parade start one more time to march with the Alumni Band.

4th of July parade story – backwards through the parade

Ed told me his father Dave Wight (City Band Conductor from 1968-1976) would sometimes get a police escort back to the parade starting point, so he could make it for his second time through the parade with the Firehouse 5. In those days the Firehouse 5 would meet before the parade in an office downtown where one of them worked.  To get in the proper spirit of the parade, they consumed plenty of local ‘spirits’ beforehand.  One year when Dave played, they drove the fire truck backwards in the parade – possibly the result of a rather conspicuous consumption of local beverages that day.

Typewriter as an instrument!

2008 witnessed the centennial of American composer Leroy Anderson’s birth.  In honor of the centennial, Don Bieghler conducted a different Anderson piece during every concert that year.  One Anderson composition was a short novelty piece for typewriter and band, written in 1950.  Percussionist Yvonne Rowe was selected to perform the solo on her trusty Remington typewriter.

Sadly, I do not have a photo of percussionist Yvonne Rowe playing the piece with the Ashland City Band. This photo shows Leroy Anderson’s typewriter concert in a still from a video by Brandenburger Symphoniker on April 12, 2012. Link to watch video is below.
(photo from YouTube video)

When it came time for the piece, Yvonne surprised the band and truly made it fun.  First her husband brought out an authentic early 20th-century typewriter stand. Then Yvonne came out dressed for the part with a big grey wig, cake makeup, and long-skirted secretarial attire from 60 years earlier.  It delighted everyone, and after a great performance the band gave her a standing ‘O.’ I wish I had a video of Yvonne and the Ashland City Band performing this piece. The best I could do was find a version for you on YouTube. Here is a link to the one I liked best. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nW8dGwa2zRw

Guest conductors

James DePreist was the conductor of the Portland Symphony and the Britt Festival Orchestra. Raoul invited him to conduct encores several times at the Ashland City Band. One encore piece was a University of Michigan football fight song, and DePreist asked Maddox, “What’s a wolverine?” 

Ed Wight tells a story of two “surprise” guest conductors. The City Band closes every concert with a couple marches.  For one concert in 1979, Raoul Maddox spotted two former City Band conductors in the audience.  On the spot, he invited both Irv Myrick and Dave Wight to conduct the marches that night. Even the guest conductors were surprised.

Martin Majkut

Martin Majkut is the conductor of the Rogue Valley Symphony. Many people don’t know that his first conducting experience in the Rogue Valley was not with the symphony, but was conducting the Ashland City Band. Majkut moved here in the summer of 2010, but the symphony season didn’t start until the fall. That summer he conducted the City Band in an arrangement of a Czechoslovakian tone poem.

In the summer of 2019, in honor of his 10th year in the Rogue Valley, I got to see Majkut guest-conduct a second time with the Ashland City Band.  

Virginia and the trap door

Ashland City Band, 1916
This photo shows an Ashland City Band concert in Lithia Park, probably 1916. This is the original bandstand with the trap door in the floor. (“This image is part of the Stories of Southern Oregon Collection in the Southern Oregon University. Hannon Library digital archives and made available by Southern Oregon University. Hannon Library.”)

This is a story from the 1940s about Virginia Westerfield, a long time clarinet player in the band. To get into the old bandstand, you had to enter through a trap door. You had to climb up narrow steps, then the door in the bandstand floor was swung back to let musicians in. Before the concert could begin, the trap door had to be closed for all the musicians to fit on the stage. Apparently, Virginia was late in arriving one day and found the trap door shut tight against her. We don’t know if the conductor intentionally closed the trap door to keep her out, or if he didn’t realize she was coming up the stairs. But after that, she was never late again during all her years with the band!

A 100-year-old City Band member 

Ashland City Band
Preston Mitchell played tuba for the Ashland City Band until he was nearly 100 years old.
(photo by Greg Badger, 2015)

According to Bieghler, “Preston Mitchell, who played tuba in the band starting in 1989, was 100 years old in September 2017.  We surprised him by playing ‘Happy Birthday’ at a park concert. Preston retired at the end of the 2017 season.”   

Bieghler went on to say he gets frequent requests to play ‘Happy Birthday’ during a concert. To avoid awkward moments turning people down, the band came up with an ingenious solution. They only play ‘Happy Birthday’ “for those who are 100 years old.” So far, the only one to meet this threshold besides Preston Mitchell was an audience member – Sadie Williams – in 2016. 

More to come 

There are still more City Band stories to tell. I will share more humorous and meaningful band stories in Part 4 of this series about the Ashland City Band. 

References:

Ashland City Band website, accessed November 2019. 

Author in-person interview with Don Bieghler, Ed Wight and the late Raoul Maddox on July 7, 2019. Thanks to Ed Wight and Don Bieghler for proofing the article and adding more of their memories in the process.

Poem: Beach Street

Beach Street is not by the sand
or even near the beach.

Named after Ashland pioneer
Henry Beach Carter, it is near
Southern Oregon University,
where thousands of students –
and their teacher/mentors –
share
(with Beach Street residents and the community)
inspiring music, art, sports and learning.

To the north, Beach Street ends at
Siskiyou Boulevard and
Ashland High School,
where young actors, athletes and adults
are shaped and forged.

To the south, Beach Street ends at the
Siskiyou Mountain range,
where mountain hikers and mountain bikers
find a paradise to explore.

Actors, doctors, students, families, business people
and more all share Beach Street with
deer, bears, raccoons, turkeys and
massive trees full of squirrels and jays.

Peter Finkle   April 7, 2018

Poem: 4th of July in Ashland, Oregon

C’mon everybody,
don’t delay.
We want to claim our spot
on the parade route
before the excitement 
explodes like fireworks.

Heads tilt
as the low-flying jets zoom overhead.
Heads swivel
as friends, neighbors and local celebrities
pass by, and all this
before the parade even begins.

I laugh to hear my friend mutter
   “only in Ashland”
as the parade flows by with
grass-skirted hula dancers, followed by
kilt-wearing bag pipers, followed by
the Jewish temple Klezmer band, followed by
Jesus carrying his large wooden cross.

The young ones 
are wide-eyed for
unicycles and stilt-walkers,
ever-alert to leap
for incoming candy.

We admire classic old cars and wild art cars,
we cheer young gymnasts
back-flipping their way down Main Street,
we clap along with the enthusiastic,
tie-dye clad Ashland Middle School band.

After the parade,
we gather as a community in Lithia Park
to hear the entire
Declaration of Independence,
to remember
why we celebrate this day.

Ashland City Band: Since 1876 (part 2)

145 years of City Band history.
Why the band has ‘so much fun.’
One rehearsal is all they get!

It all began in the year…

How many names has the Ashland City Band had since 1876? What makes our City Band unique? All this and more in this article, part 2 of 4. It is based primarily on a 2019 interview with three men (Don Bieghler, Ed Wight and the late Raoul Maddox) who between them have 164 years of experience with the Ashland City Band.  

Ashland City Band, possibly 1880s
This is the earliest photo of the Ashland City Band I have seen. It was called the Brass Band at the time. This photo may be from the late 1870s or in the 1880s. (photo from Ashland City Band website, from Southern Oregon Historical Society)

Founded as the Ashland Brass Band in 1876, our City Band has had four (and possibly six) names in the past 145 years. There is a photo on the Ashland City Band website taken between 1880 and 1895 labeled “Ashland Band.” After 1890, when Otis Helman (Ashland co-founder Abel Helman’s son) was named the conductor, this band was also known as the “Helman Red Suit Band.” The city band became the Ashland Concert Band in 1915. Then in the 1940s, the name was Ashland Municipal Band. Finally, in 1952 the band got its current name. 

1916 and the dedication of Lithia Park

Ashland City Band, 1916
This photo shows an Ashland City Band concert in Lithia Park, probably 1916. The current Lithia Park Bandshell is in the same location as this original bandstand. (“This image is part of the Stories of Southern Oregon Collection in the Southern Oregon University. Hannon Library digital archives and made available by Southern Oregon University. Hannon Library.”)

1916 was a big year for Ashland and for the City Band. Lithia Park was dedicated in July 1916 during the largest 4th of July celebration in our town’s history. Four local city bands played at the bandstand and other park locations during the three-day extravaganza. In addition to Ashland’s city band, bands from Medford, Grants Pass and Central Point played for three days in a row. According to an article in the Table Rock Sentinel, each band had about 20 members in 1916.

The Ashland City Band continued to play at the Lithia Park bandstand all summer, as shown by this article from the Ashland Tidings.

Ashland City Band 1916
“The Ashland band will give two concerts a week,” says the Ashland Tidings article of May 25, 1916. (photo of newspaper on microfilm by Peter Finkle)

City support for the band

In 1938, voters of the city of Ashland approved a small tax to support their city band. I consider that a huge vote of confidence in the band by the people of Ashland. However, state Measures 47 and 50 in the 1990s overrode local funding of the band. The city band is still part of the Ashland Municipal Charter, but its annual financing now comes from the city General Fund. 

The Municipal Charter states that “The City Band shall present not less than ten concerts, including the Fourth of July parade, during each summer season.” And they do (except when impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021).

Wight and Bieghler did research and found only one other city band in the state of Oregon (Corvallis) that has a full slate of summer public concerts. Having our City Band funded by the city makes it even more unique. Most city bands throughout the United States have to depend on donations and fundraising to continue playing.

Size of the City Band

The brass band started out small in the late 1800s. After Lithia Park’s dedication in 1916, the band size was limited by the size of the park bandstand. It could accommodate a maximum of 25 to 27 musicians.

During Dave Wight’s time as conductor, the number of players was usually in the 40s. Maddox conducted from 1977 to 1997 and increased the band size to between 75 and 80 musicians. 

Raised bandstand

Lithia Park bandstand, 1915 or 1916
This photo shows the original Lithia Park raised bandstand soon after it was built in 1915 or 1916. (“This image is part of the Stories of Southern Oregon Collection in the Southern Oregon University. Hannon Library digital archives and made available by Southern Oregon University. Hannon Library.”)

In 1947, Maddox’s first year with the band as a 14-year-old, the band still played at the 1916-era raised bandstand in Lithia Park. The only way up was through a trap door in the middle of the bandstand floor. Once the time came for the band to play, it was closed, and no one else could get in. 

The City of Ashland funded construction of the current band shell in 1949.

Soloists and community sing-along

From the 1930s through the 1960s, the audience would occasionally join the band in a “community sing-along.” We have lost that aspect of community singing in our nation’s culture over the decades since then.

Vocal soloists were also a much more prominent part of the band concerts many years ago. Ray Tumbleson, music professor at Southern Oregon College from 1963 to 1983, provided many vocal solo performances with the band. He was just one of many popular local singers who would perform with the band.

Boost in City Band quality

Ed Wight said, “When I was in high school, seven of my high school classmates were in the band. This was when it was 45 to 55 musicians. I looked around three or four years ago, now that the band is 75-strong. You would think there is even more room for high school kids. Well, there were only two, and they were both state champions on their instruments! The band under Raoul Maddox didn’t just get bigger, it got better.” The photo below shows the late Raoul Maddox in 2015.

Ashland City Band
Raoul Maddox played trombone for the Ashland City Band for 50 years, and also conducted the band for another 21 years. (photo by Greg Badger, 2015)

In recent years, the City Band has been able to draw musicians who play in other bands during the fall, winter and spring. One was the Rogue Valley Wind Ensemble, which first performed in 1968 and later grew into the Rogue Valley Symphonic Band. Another was the Hillah Temple Shrine Band, founded in 1909, which evolved in around 1991 into the larger Southern Oregon Concert Band. Both of these bands indirectly improved the City Band in another way.  Unlike before 1988, most players now show up for the City Band season each June in top performance condition, having just played concerts with the other bands.

One other factor also improved the quality of the band’s performance. In the mid-1950s, the band had five different conductors in five years.  That changed in 1958.  Since that year, there have been only four conductors, and each enjoyed many years at the helm:  Herb Cecil (1958-1967), Dave Wight (1968-1976), Raoul Maddox (1977-1997) and Don Bieghler (1998-present).  That individual longevity provides the stability and consistency of leadership necessary to maintain and improve overall performance standards.

“So much fun”

“We’re all having so much fun that nobody’s leaving the band. Over half the band is more than 60 years old now.” 

Don Bieghler and Ed Wight

One reason the band has so much fun is because current conductor Don Bieghler is willing to be creative. For example, at the July 29, 2021 concert, the audience and band members heard alphorns being played. What a fun sight and sound!

Ashland City Band 2021
Rogue Valley alphorns group played with the Ashland City Band at their concert on July 29, 2021. (photo by Peter Finkle)

Why is the City Band different from other bands? 

A major reason: the band has only one two-hour rehearsal for each show. The musicians walk into each Wednesday evening rehearsal and open a folder of pieces that they will play at the Thursday evening concert. That’s ten pieces to learn in two hours! How is that possible?

Here is a brief exchange during my interview to give you a little appreciation for the level of musicianship in the Ashland City Band.

Me: “The whole band concert takes 45 minutes to an hour, doesn’t it?”

Don: “Yes.”

Me: “So how can you fit a whole rehearsal into two hours…”

Don, Raoul, Ed: [laughter]

Me: “…playing the whole pieces, plus going over the challenging parts?”

Don: “I know that a piece of music is going to take four minutes to play, so I can allow eight minutes for it in rehearsal. A one-hour concert becomes two hours in rehearsal. So that’s the kind of guide I use.”

Me: “You’re really pushing…”

Ed: “It’s a challenge for the players. Not all good musicians are also good sight readers. You have to be a good sight reader – able to play a piece well the first time you see it – to play in the Ashland City Band.” 

There is no “luxury” to practice a piece for a few weeks, or even days, and then be ready for the concert. Current band conductor Don Bieghler explained that it starts with his selection of the music. “It has to be music at a level that we can read it. I have to select music that the audience will enjoy, so they want to come back. And I have to select music that the band enjoys playing.”

He gets suggestions for pieces from band members, but he makes the final selections. Bieghler also keeps detailed records, so that a popular piece is not played more than once every three years (except for marches). 

Bieghler told me that he usually chooses only one very challenging piece each season, which would take two or three weeks of rehearsal for that piece. Then he explained something that surprised me again, and took my respect for the band up another level. “Now if we have something that’s more challenging, and takes more time in rehearsal, then the piece before that and the piece after, we could probably sight read it at the concert. So, if needed, I choose something that’s simple enough to sight read while playing at the concert.”

The City Band and Jefferson Public Radio 

For about 20 years, radio station KSOR (JPR) would broadcast Thursday evening summer City Band concerts. “For several years,” said Maddox, “we would raise money for the station by having a guest conductor, and people would bid money to have their uncle come in and conduct one number with the band. The band would know the number by heart, so they didn’t have to watch the conductor at all.” 

Ashland City Band 2021
Ashland City Band plays in Lithia Park on July 22, 2021. (photo by Peter Finkle)

Conclusion

Why do band members and audience members come back each summer, year after year, decade after decade, to Ashland City Band concerts in Lithia Park? I’ll let long-time band member Ed Wright have the last word in this part 2 of 4 article. 

“It’s so much fun to play in an ensemble this good, and to get an incredible variety of music, and each concert is different. If you’re a musician who loves band music, to play with musicians this accomplished is nothing short of a thrill. Top to bottom, it’s one of the very best bands in the state, because we get the symphony wind players, the music teachers who want to play during the summer, and the SOU faculty members, all these people who are too busy to play in the community bands during fall, winter and spring. 

“Just one example: The French Horn section of the Ashland City Band is led [in 2019] by Cindy Hutton, Jennifer Cartensen and Linda Harris, and those are the top three horn players in the Rogue Valley Symphony. Additionally, the first chairs throughout the entire City Band brass section all play in the symphony. There’s such a high level of personnel sprinkled throughout the band, it increases the pleasure in performing good band repertory to hear all parts played so well.”

More to come

There are still more City Band stories to tell. I will share more humorous and meaningful band stories in Parts 3 and 4 of this series about the Ashland City Band. 

References:

Ashland City Band website, accessed November 2019. 

Ashland Tidings articles: April 14, 1877, July 18, 1879, September 26, 1879.

Atwood, Kay. Jackson County Conversations, Interview with Almeda Helman Coder, Jan 1974. 

Author in-person interview with Raoul Maddox, Don Bieghler and Ed Wight, July 7, 2019. Thanks to Ed Wight and Don Bieghler for reviewing the article and adding more of their memories in the process.