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Blue Note for valley brass

A group of Ashland's top brass could be leaving town after 103 years of calling it home.

The Southern Oregon Concert Band may no longer be able to afford the cost of rehearsal and storage space in Ashland, said SOCB President Diane Barnes, and is eying Medford for a possible move.

"No decisions have been made, we're just discussing it," said Barnes. "It will ultimately be up to our board and band members."

The band rehearses at the Ashland Middle School, where it pays $10 an hour to rent, said Barnes.

The district's standard rate for an adult nonprofit group renting space went up from $10 to $20 an hour at the beginning of this school year, but the band has been receiving a break from the new rate, said Barnes. Before the beginning of next school year, she said, it is expected to begin paying the standard rate. "Financially, it's looking tough. We can't afford $40 a night," Barnes said.

The band rehearses for two hours each Tuesday night.

Additionally, the band is paying $50 a month to store its sheet music and other equipment at the Ashland Masonic Lodge on Clover Street, she said.

The band is a registered nonprofit corporation in Oregon, and its budget is entirely based off band membership fees and donations, Barnes said.

Conductor Martin Behnke said the band also runs into expenses when renting out space for concerts it puts on.

"We're kind of a stay even organization "… totally self-driven financially," said Behnke. "We don't have much in place as far as corporate support."

Barnes said SOCB is contemplating South Medford High School or Hedrick Middle School in Medford as a possible new rehearsal space. The rate at both schools is $12 per hour, she said.

The band started as Hillah Temple Shrine Band in 1909 in Ashland, and has since evolved into a "broad-based community band," its website says. There are about 50 volunteer members that range from high school students to retirees, said Barnes, who also plays flute in the ensemble.

There is a sentiment among members that it would be best to stay in Ashland, she said.

"It's part of the tradition of being here for over 100 years," she said. "And honoring the community that has been supporting us for the past 103 years."

The band plays concerts all over the Rogue Valley, she said, and its members are scattered throughout it as well.

She said the band may approach the Ashland City Council to see if there is an avenue of relief there, but nothing is on the council's schedule related to the band.

"We want to stay in Ashland if we can," said Jon Kimball, a tuba player in the ensemble. "It's our home."

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email swheeler@dailytidings.com.