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The typewriter song and other stories

Band member Preston Mitchell was 97 years old in 2015 when this photo was taken. He retired from the band after turning 100 in September 2017. [Photo by Greg Badger]
Members of the Firehouse 5 band rode on the back of an old fire truck in the 1965 Ashland 4th of July parade. [Photo by Morgan Cottle]

In this article, the third in a four-part series about the Ashland City Band, you will read about the concert where a typewriter was an instrument in the City Band. The series is based primarily on 2019 interviews 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.

In 2008, a typewriter was featured in a City Band concert. That year witnessed the centennial of American composer Leroy Anderson’s birth. In honor of the centennial, Don Bieghler conducted a different Anderson piece during each concert that year. One Anderson composition was a short novelty piece for typewriter and band, written in 1950. Percussionist Yvonne Rowe was selected to perform the solo on her trusty Remington typewriter.

When it came time for the piece, Rowe surprised the band and truly made it fun. First her husband brought out an authentic early 20th century typewriter stand. Then Yvonne came out dressed for the part with a big gray wig, cake makeup, and long-skirted secretarial attire from 60 years earlier. It delighted everyone, and after a great performance the band gave her a standing ‘O.’ I wish I had a video of Yvonne and the Ashland City Band performing the piece, but I don't. The best I can offer is a version of it on YouTube. In the YouTube search bar, type in "Typewriter Brandenburger." Choose the 3 minute, 57 second version to watch. It's a lot of fun.

Who has been in Ashland’s 4th of July parade three different times in one parade? Only Raoul Maddox of the Ashland City Band. Here’s how it happened.

First time through: The City Band has always marched at the front of the parade, following the motorcycle police and color guard who lead the parade.

Second time through: You may remember the Firehouse 5 band, whose members rode on the back of an old fire truck or pickup truck. When Maddox was in the Firehouse 5 band, he kept his car on Water Street at the end of the parade route. As soon as the Ashland City Band finished the parade, he drove as fast as he could through the residential streets back to the parade starting point to join his Firehouse 5 bandmates.

Third time through: For three years, in the late 1960s or early 1970s, there was also an Ashland High Alumni Band that marched in the parade. These were former high school band members who came together just for fun. The fun included the incentive of a keg of beer from Cook’s Tavern downtown, where they could “tip a glass or two with their old friends” after the parade. Those three years, Maddox somehow had to make it back to the parade start one more time to march with the Alumni Band.

Backward through the 4th of July parade? Ed Wight said his father Dave Wight (City Band conductor from 1968-1976) would sometimes get a police escort back to the parade starting point so he could make it for his second time through the parade with the Firehouse 5 band. In those days, Firehouse 5 band members met before the parade in an office downtown where one of them worked. To get in the proper holiday spirit, they consumed plenty of local spirits beforehand. One year when Dave played, they drove the fire truck backward in the parade — probably the result of a rather conspicuous consumption of local beverages that day.

Virginia and the trap door: This is a story from the 1940s about Virginia Westerfield, a longtime clarinet player in the band. To get into the old bandstand, you had to enter through a trap door in the bandstand floor. You had to climb up narrow steps, then the trap door was swung back to let musicians in. However, before the concert could begin, the trap door had to be closed for all the musicians to fit on the stage. Apparently, Virginia was late in arriving one day and found the trap door shut tight against her. We don’t know if the conductor intentionally closed the trap door to teach her a lesson, or whether he didn’t realize she was coming up the stairs. But after that, she was never late again during her 61 years with the band.

A 100-year-old Ashland City Band member: According to Bieghler, “Preston Mitchell, who played tuba in the band starting in 1989, was 100 years old in September 2017. We surprised him by playing ‘Happy Birthday’ at a park concert. Preston retired at the end of the 2017 season.”

Bieghler said he gets frequent requests to play “Happy Birthday” during a concert. To avoid awkward moments turning people down, the band came up with an ingenious solution. They only play “Happy Birthday” “for those who are 100 years old.” So far, the only one to meet this threshold besides Preston Mitchell was an audience member — Sadie Williams — in 2016. I will share more humorous and meaningful stories in Part 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.