Wanted: 'People person' who knows how to jam

Knowing your Gershwin inside and out won't be enough to get you appointed as the new conductor of the Southern Oregon Concert Band.

As the community band searches for that right person to lead it into its second century of performing music, it expects applicants to possess a vast knowledge of music. But that's just the basic qualification.

"We're looking for a people person and someone who's a good teacher," said Ling Helphand, band president and alto saxophonist. "Our band members have a wide variety of expertise — from those just getting back to their instruments after not playing for a long time to others who have been actively involved in several bands for many years. The new conductor must be able to work with all the different skill levels."

The conductor picks the music for every performance, so the new leader must be committed to the community concept that the audience comes first. A typical program may include a little Gershwin or Ellington, a few show tunes and perhaps a rousing march at the end to send everyone home with some pep in their step.

"We aim to provide the audience with a quality performance of music appealing to a broad cross-section of the community," said Helphand.

The band's season runs from September to June, consisting of five to six free concerts per year at various Ashland and Medford locations. Next year will mark 100 years since its origin as the Hillah Temple Shrine Band.

Having a new conductor in place will make the anniversary that much more special, said trumpeter Harry Kannasto, a member since the 1960s.

Having played in the band under five different conductors, Kannasto knows that musical knowledge counts for a lot in a leader. But he agreed with Helphand that the person who holds the baton must have the ability to work with a wide range of talent.

"Being organized, choosing the right tunes for the right audience, and doing a good job on the arrangements" also are essential, he added.

The new conductor will take over a thriving unit of 60 musicians, some of whom — Kannasto included — were members during the lean years of the 1990s when membership shrank to about 20.

Seeing the band revive under conductor John Drysdale (see correction note below) was a highlight for Kannasto, though the band's proudest moment, he recalled, came in the early 1970s when it took home top honors from the Western Shrine Conference in San Francisco.

The new conductor will receive an honorarium, while reaping the benefits of a recent $2,500 grant from the city of Ashland to upgrade the band's library of musical scores — the largest grant or donation the band has ever received, according to Helphand.

Persons interested in applying for the position should submit a letter of interest and a brief statement of qualifications to President Helphand at P.O. Box 3264, Ashland, OR 97520.

Helphand also invites anyone interested in playing in the band to contact her at 482-0615 (see correction note below) or socbprez@charter.net.

"We're a dedicated group of volunteer musicians who play for the love of it, and newcomers are always welcome," she said. "The band doesn't hold auditions. You can come and play, see how you like the band, and together we'll determine whether your skill level is a good fit."

Paul Hadella is a freelance writer living in Talent. Reach him at talenthouse@charter.net.

Correction: The original version of this story included an incorrect contact number for the band and an incorrect name for the conductor in the 1990s and early 2000s. This version has been corrected.

Share This Story