16 Sep Ashland City Band: Rain dance parade & other stories (Part 4)
The couple who moved to Ashland to play in the City Band.
Guanajuato “Rain dance parade!”
Who told me these stories?
This series of four articles about the Ashland City Band 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.
The couple who moved to Ashland to play in the City Band
Band director Don Bieghler shocked me when he said: “We’ve had people move to Ashland so they could play in the Ashland City Band.” He was talking about Peggie and Herb Greuling. They had been living in Florida, where Herb had just retired from the U.S. Air Force band.
As Peggie told the story to a Seattle Times reporter, she and her husband wanted to retire in a college town with four seasons, but not too cold. They hoped to find “the kind of place where they have band concerts on Sunday afternoons.” The couple flew to Portland, rented a car there, and drove thousands of miles exploring the West Coast. They were frustrated. Nothing struck them as a new “home.”
When they returned the rental car in Portland, they expressed their frustration to the rental car clerk, who responded: “You should have tried Ashland.” Former band director Maddox remembers receiving a letter from the Greulings, and responding with detailed information about Ashland and our City Band. That sealed the deal, and the couple moved to Ashland.
They lived in Ashland for more than 26 years. Yes, both played in the Ashland City Band, Peggie on saxophone and Herb on bass clarinet.
Peggie was an especially accomplished musician. In addition to playing in the band, Peggie was a school music teacher for many years. She played 11 instruments in order to be able to work with all the students! Her specialty instruments were saxophone and violin. She even volunteered to teach violin, by the Suzuki method, to Talent Elementary School first graders. And she bought the first violins to get them started.
I was happily surprised to find a YouTube video of the Ashland City Band in the 1990s playing several songs that Peggie Greuling wrote. Leona Mitchell was the vocalist and Peggie played saxophone solos.
Peggie passed away in 2018 at the age of 93, just weeks before the couple’s 60th wedding anniversary.
City Band uniform colors through the years
Have you ever gone to an Oregon Ducks home football game and checked the team’s uniform color schedule to see what color you should wear to the game? I learned that the Ashland City Band did something similar many years ago.
Prior to 1977, the band’s uniform colors were black slacks with a white shirt. In Raoul Maddox’s first year as conductor that year, he decided to change the uniforms to brighter colors. According to Maddox, “Every week we would change the color of our shirts, and so would the audience. So if we were wearing red, most of the audience was in red. If we were in yellow, they were in yellow. It got so they kind of liked it.”
The next year, Maddox decided on standard uniform shirts that included a swan, then the symbol of Ashland.
In 2011, when Bieghler was conductor, it was time to buy all new uniform shirts for band members. He couldn’t find the same green color they had been wearing for a number of years. Bieghler agonized about the decision, to the point of having sleepless nights. He finally chose a teal color, and was relieved when band members told him they liked it a lot. They still wear teal color shirts to this day.
I asked for more stories. Bieghler and Maddox came up with two from the band’s trip to our sister city Guanajuato, Mexico.
Thunder in Guanajuato
“One interesting story was on our trip to Guanajuato,” Bieghler said. “We were on stage in the opera house, and we were doing this dramatic-sounding song. There was a period of silence in the song, and all at once there was a tremendous crash of thunder and lightning outside that just filled that gap. It was like an act of God.”
The “Rain dance parade” in Guanajuato
According to Maddox, the band was drenched as it marched in a parade in Guanajuato. But not just any parade. He laughed as he told me, “It was a parade to bring on the rains to fill the reservoirs. Halfway through the parade it started to rain, and by the time we got through, the rain was bouncing ten inches off the ground! Everybody was just soaked. So we came around this place avoiding all the gargoyles that were spitting water out from the freeways and the buildings, and went into a parking garage. A lot of the other companies that were in the parade [Mexican bands] were already in there when we came in. We were all like drowned rats; we were wet! They greeted us and then pretty soon we were all entertaining each other, and it was just like a wonderful homecoming. There were probably a couple hundred people in the parking garage trying to get out of the rain. It was a lot of fun. And it was a successful parade!”
Supporting school bands
Band members are proud of their cooperation with Lions Club of Ashland, which sells ice cream at the evening band concerts. 100% of the proceeds from ice cream sales are donated to the Ashland Middle School and High School band programs. According to the Lions Club website, “Over the period of 2008-18 we donated $28,265 in support of the [school] bands.”
Declaration of Independence every 4th of July in Lithia Park
As many long-time Ashlanders know, the Declaration of Independence is recited in full each 4th of July at the Lithia Park bandshell. That tradition seems to go back more than 100 years.
Gettysburg Address at 4th of July City Band concert
2013 was the 150th anniversary of the Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address. That year, local actor Bob Jackson Miner spoke the powerful words of the Gettysburg address after the Declaration of Independence was recited.
It was a hit with, so the following year, band conductor Bieghler and Miner came up with an idea to add to the emotion of the Gettysburg address. In 1998, the City Band had played a piece called “American Civil War Fantasy” that has a long drumroll during the piece. They planned the timing of the Gettysburg address during the drumroll with only one rehearsal before the concert.
After the 2014 concert, one of the band members told Bieghler that “I had tears coming down my eyes” as they played the piece. Community members who heard the speech were so moved that Miner has spoken the Gettysburg address each 4th of July since then.
Closing Words from Director Don Bieghler
“One of the things I most appreciate about the band is the wonderful audiences that come to the concerts every week. We have good community support. People come up to me that I see every week, to make a comment or give a compliment. They’re curious about what we do and they appreciate that the city supports the band.”
Anon. Peggie Greuling obituary accessed 11/13/2019
Ashland City Band website, accessed November 2019.
Ashland City Band video, with Peggie Greuling. YouTube. (Accessed online, March 2020)
Author in-person interview with Raoul Maddox, Don Bieghler and Ed Wight, July 7, 2019. Thanks to Ed Wight and Don Bieghler for proofing the article and adding more of their memories in the process.
Godden, Jean. “How Special People Make a Difference,” The Seattle Times, June 25, 1997. (Accessed online 11/13/2019.)