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Drummed out of Ashland

If you were in Ashland last summer, you heard a lot of loud music and a continuous ticking sound. That was the Santa Clara Vanguard Drum & Bugle Corps using an amplified metronome as it practiced before a national tour.

The Corps would have returned this year if it weren't for numerous complaints from residents about the noise.

Police Chief Tighe O'Meara said the city, police department and Southern Oregon University discussed that Santa Clara Vanguard was welcome to return this year, but it would have to comply with the city's noise ordinance.

Santa Clara Vanguard is considered one of the elite drum and bugle corps in the world, which is probably why it practiced all day every day with few, short breaks for three weeks. Its persistent practice might have driven neighbors crazy, but it won the Drum Corps International World Class Championship last year for the seventh time.

Practice last year started around 8 a.m. and sometimes went until near 10 p.m. from May 19 to June 8.

O'Meara said the police department received a lot of complaints, as well as positive comments, but there were enough complaints to have the city’s legal department analyze the noise ordinance.

The ordinance allows for a reasonable expectation of noise considering the character and nature of each neighborhood. The key phrase Ashland citizens can’t agree on is “reasonable expectation.”

It means that for someone living next door to the football stadium, where the practices took place, should expect some football and soccer game noise, but that doesn’t mean they should expect loud noise for 10 hours a day for three weeks, O’Meara said.

Katrina Brown, assistant city attorney, said the city received numerous complaints, as did the City Council, and a few citizens even scheduled meetings with her to discuss the return of the Corps.

City officials agreed that the noise made by the band was not considered within a “reasonable expectation,” so a list of rules was imposed on the group intending to give surrounding neighbors breaks from the noise. The rules apparently didn’t fit with the group’s practice schedule, so it chose to not return this year.

Brown said she recommended that the group practice for shorter periods and not so late. She said she relayed the information to O’Meara, who was to relay it to SOU.

Joe Mosley, SOU media director, said it was SCV’s choice to not return this year, but he’s hoping they can work together to host them again next year.

“It’s a shame that something couldn’t be worked out this year, but we’re hopeful that we can get parties together to work it out next year,” Mosley said. “At the same time, the university does understand the concerns of the neighbors, and we want to be a good neighbor.”

He said he couldn’t say how much the Corps’ contract with SOU was for, but it brought in significant revenue — plus it brought revenue into the local community by having hundreds of additional people shop and eat locally, said Travis Moddison, director of bands at Ashland High School.

Moddison was integral to helping coordinate the Corps’ stay in Ashland, as well as the first Drum Corps International concert in Ashland.

Although the Corps won’t practice in Ashland this year, the Drum Corps International concert is still on for July 5, and groups traveling from around the country to participate will walk in the July 4 parade.

John Williams, one of the Drum Corps International coordinators and a former Ashland School District director, called the noise ordinance “flexible.”

He compared the band practices to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival shows that last until 11 p.m. and the Thursday City Band concerts in Lithia Park in the summer, both of which he can hear from his house.

However, Kristen Tussey would disagree. She said she lives a few blocks away from the stadium, and after hearing her neighbors’ concerns reflect her own, she addressed the city, SOU and the police chief.

“I love music, you love music, we all love music, but it’s the fact of the sound ordinance violation,” Tussey said. “We’re used to living by the stadium and hearing football games and the Fourth of July celebrations, and it’s all great, but this was bombastic amplified noise every day all day for three weeks.”

She noted that the band wasn’t exactly playing music all day. They were practicing their horns, drums and cymbals, which was all amplified.

“People suffered PTSD, children couldn’t go to sleep, there was an autistic child who couldn’t function and go to school,” Tussey said. “I couldn’t stay home because it was like torture.”

She said she’s grateful the city took citizen concerns into consideration and acted on them.

Sophia Bogle lives on Lit Way, not far from the stadium. She said she makes videos on how to repair books as a part of her business, and she couldn’t make videos during those three weeks because of the constant sounds in the background.

Williams said Ashland leaders need to find ways to better support events that are in the community’s best interest without putting so many restrictions in place.

“I think something Ashland has trouble dealing with is finding solutions to concerns on events like this,” Williams said. “It’s so big that it’s inevitable that a few people will have concerns.”

He said the Drum Corps International show sold out to a full house last year. The SOU stadium fits 2,200. That show is still scheduled for this year, although Santa Clara is not performing.

“This was something that literally thousands of people enjoyed last year,” Williams said. “We were really lucky to have them come to our little town of 22,000.”

The Santa Clara Vanguard director was contacted for comment but did not respond by press time.

Contact Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at cfowlkes@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.

(April 8: Story updated to correct the spelling of the word cymbal.)

Chad Neely practices with the Santa Clara Vanguard Drum & Bugle Corps at Southern Oregon University in Ashland, Oregon 2018. Photo courtesy of SCV.{ }
The Santa Clara Vanguard Drum & Bugle Corps practices at Southern Oregon University in Ashland in 2018. The noise split the community between those who enjoyed the sounds and those who couldn't stand the noise. Photo courtesy of SCV.