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Meet the conductors

Photo by Greg Badger Don Bieghler, Ashland City Band conductor since 1988.
The late Raoul Maddox, who was in the Ashland City Band for 71 years. [Photo by Greg Badger]

In this article, the first of four parts, you will meet three musicians who between them have 164 years in the Ashland City Band.

Its roots go back to 1876, and funding for the band was written into the Ashland City Charter by our citizens in 1938. It is one of only two city bands in the state of Oregon that give a full slate of weekly concerts each summer.

Have you ever wondered about the people behind the 4th of July band concert and the summertime Thursday evening concerts in Lithia Park? On July 7, 2019, I sat around a dining room table with these three men who have played in or conducted the City Band for 164 years. I felt honored. I learned a lot. I want to share what I learned with you.

First I will introduce Raoul Maddox, who was with the Ashland City Band for 71 years, from 1947 to 2018. Of those 71 years, he was the band conductor for 21 years, from 1977 to 1997. Maddox joined the band as a trombone player at age 14, while attending Medford High School. Sadly, Maddox passed away in September 2020. The August 12 band concert will be held in his memory.

Second is Don Bieghler, now the longest serving conductor in the history of Ashland City Band. When you attend band concerts, you hear his informative introductions to each piece of music. He has been conductor for 22 years, from 1998 until today, so he just passed Maddox's record. Bieghler joined the band in 1963 as a clarinet player, and in total has been with the band for 56 years.

Third is Ed Wight — not a conductor, but the son of a conductor. Wight tried to join the band in 1965, when he auditioned with his clarinet as a 14-year-old. He was disappointed to be turned down. Undaunted, he came back at age 15, auditioned again, and was accepted into the band. He has now played in the band for 37 years, and served as band librarian for 28 of those years.

You might call Wight a band "princeling," because his father Dave Wight conducted the City Band for nine years, from 1968 to 1976. Ed related a funny anecdote about his father's creativity. A few minutes before he was to conduct a concert, Dave Wight discovered he’d left his conductor’s baton at home. There was no time to get it, so Dave broke a tiny branch off a tree and used it for the concert.

Conductors provide leadership, guidance and inspiration. Here are three conductors who stand out in the history of the Ashland City Band.

Ward Croft was conductor from the 1920s to 1941. He established the summer tradition of Thursday night concerts in Lithia Park. Going back to 1876, the City Band contained mostly brass instruments. Croft expanded the band to include a full complement of woodwind players (flutes, oboes, clarinets, saxophones and bassoons). It became a full concert band.

Glenn Matthews, conductor in 1947 and from 1951 to 1954, gave the band its modern title — Ashland City Band. It had previously been called the Ashland Municipal Band. You might be surprised to know that for decades the national anthem was played at the end of each concert. Matthews began our current tradition of opening each concert with the “Star Spangled Banner.”

Bieghler and Wight also praised Raoul Maddox, who was sitting at the table with us. While conducting from 1977 to 1997, Maddox expanded the band from about 55 players to between 75 and 80 players. More important than quantity was the boost in performance quality during Maddox's tenure.

"The band is not only bigger,“ Wight said, ”it's better — as it now draws consistently on Rogue Valley Symphony wind players, SOU Faculty members and local band teachers who want to play during the summer."

A City Band concert is more than just the music. It uplifts us and brings us together as a community. Wight described one such moment in the band's history that deeply moved him.

"While we get a partial standing ovation at the end of every concert, we almost never get one during the concert itself. I only remember one such occasion. In 2012 we performed a medley of Irving Berlin tunes. It was a glorious arrangement, and closed with one of his two most famous songs, 'God Bless America.' It was such a beautiful, heartfelt version, the audience spontaneously stood as one — and that brought tears to my eyes."

I will close with this quote from an audience member: "The Ashland City Band is magical. It reminds me of the movie ‘The Music Man,’ which I loved. Not that the band is the same as the Music Man, but there is a similar flavor and feeling of an old-time place. It's the flavor of a place where people in the community come together to sit in the park on the lawn, eat ice cream and listen to music."

We are fortunate to have this dedicated group of musicians in our midst, summer after summer, year after year. Bieghler, Wight and the late Raoul Maddox shared many stories with me. I will tell other funny and meaningful band stories in parts 2, 3 and 4 of this series about the Ashland City Band.

Peter Finkle writes about Ashland history, neighborhoods, public art and more. See WalkAshland.com for his Ashland stories.

If You Go

Beginning July 22, the Ashland City Band will play five Thursday evening concerts at the Lithia Park Butler Bandshell.

A small opening group will begin to play at 6:15 p.m. The City Band will play at 7 p.m. Bring your own chair or blanket to sit on, because the benches have been removed. The dates are July 22 and 29, Aug. 5, 12 and 19.