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The Ashland City Band performs at the Lithia Park Bandshell. The 2018 summer season begins Thursday night with a concert at 7 and a small group preliminary mini concert at 6:15. Photo by Greg Badger

Lithia Park prepares for the sound of music

Grab your lawn chair or blanket and escape to the shady lawns at the Lithia Park Bandshell for a night of music performed by the Ashland City Band at 7 p.m. Thursday.

The bandshell grounds are surrounded by towering cedars and redwoods, providing the perfect venue for an old-fashioned concert of marches, overtures, Broadway tunes and other concert-band favorites.

Under the direction of Don Bieghler of Medford, the band will perform 10 free Thursday night concerts from June 14 to Aug. 16, in addition to marching in the Fourth of July parade and presenting a patriotic concert in the park afterward.

Prior to each hourlong concert, early birds will be treated to half-hour performances by various smaller groups beginning at 6:15 before the main event at 7 p.m. A Dixieland band, a German band, and some brass ensembles are among those that will be featured.

There is bench seating near the stage, and a sloping lawn for blankets and camp chairs. The Ashland Lions Club sells ice cream treats to benefit local youth music education programs. Many concert-goers bring picnics to enjoy with the music.

The concerts usually close with a John Philip Sousa march, but next Thursday, a special march in honor of the red, white and blue will be performed for Flag Day.

“We’re doing ‘National Emblem,’ ” said Bieghler. “It’s an American march composed by Edwin Bagley in 1902.”

When asked to name his favorite three street marches, Sousa listed two of his own — and “National Emblem.”

Thursday’s program will also include “Sinfonians,” a symphonic march by Clifton Williams, “The First Suite for Military Band” by Gustav Holst, the jazzy “Second Prelude” by George Gershwin, and a medley of tunes from “Man of La Mancha.”

Ten students from the North Medford Middle School Band will sit in with the group Thursday night.

“It’s a great experience for them,” Bieghler said.

With more than 80 musicians, the band has a deep bench of experienced personnel.

“We have five band directors, several private teachers, and about 75 percent of our members also play in other music groups in the Rogue Valley,” Bieghler said.

Members come from all parts of the Rogue Valley, as well as from Yreka, Cave Junction, Grants Pass and Gold Beach.

“We have very little turnover. In fact, this year we have only four new members. We have a lot of folks who’ve been with us for 10 to 20 years or more,” he said.

And then there are the real old-timers.

Mike Knox has played tuba in the band for 52 years. Raoul Maddox, trombonist and a former conductor of the band, has 70 years of service with the organization.

Bieghler is in his 21st year as conductor. Before that, he played clarinet in the group and has been associated with the band for 50 years.

Several band members will be featured in extended solos this year. Among them are Angel McDonald, alto sax; Gwen Hutchings, clarinet; Erik Osberg, trumpet; and Lisa Nichols, flute.

“Hutchings will perform the Artie Shaw Clarinet Concerto,” Bieghler said. “We did it about five years ago, and people have been asking us when we’ll do it again. This is the year.”

Bieghler, 74, is a lifelong resident of the Rogue Valley and received his B.S. in music education from Southern Oregon College (now Southern Oregon University).

His first introduction to music was when he was in the fourth grade and kids were offered an opportunity to learn how to play an instrument.

“I told my mom I’d like to play a cornet,” he said. “She got mixed up and brought home a clarinet instead.” He stuck with it.

The band’s expenses, which include small stipends for members and the conductor, have been underwritten by the city of Ashland since the 1930s, when voters approved a small tax for band support.

Bieghler asks band members for music suggestions but makes the final decisions himself. In selecting the music, he keeps both the concert-goers and the band members in mind.

“We’re playing for the audience, but it has to be interesting for the band, too,” he said.

His mix usually includes marches, something from Broadway, big band numbers, folk songs and overtures.

He said a major strength of the band is its strong leadership.

“We have seven players who are either principals or second chairs in the Rogue Valley Symphony, and we have strong players in every section. In our auditions we look for sight-reading ability, because we have only one rehearsal for every concert.”

He also expressed appreciation for a core group of volunteers who help him with the nuts and bolts of running the band program: Brian Tingle, P.A. system operator; Ed Wight, librarian and quartermaster; Rebecca Pinnock, assistant librarian; Yvonne Rowe and her daughter, Jenetta Plankenhorn, quartermasters.

For more information about the Ashland City Band, see ashlandband.org.

Jim Flint is a retired newspaper editor and publisher living in Ashland. You can reach him at jimflint.ashland@yahoo.com.

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