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Masters of music

It was bound to happen when a couple dozen band directors got together in Ashland 30 years ago for a summer workshop. At some point, they would unpack their instruments and make a little music together.

Today, that workshop has morphed into a university-affiliated, three-year master’s degree program with an average annual enrollment of more than 200 candidates. The American Band College (ABC) has graduated more than 1,000 band directors from every state in the union and 16 foreign countries.

These days, they’re making more than “a little music.” At the conclusion of a three-week summer session of workshops, there will be two star-studded concerts in Medford and Ashland by a 200-piece band, all band directors from the program.

The first concert is “Evening with the Stars” at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 25, at the Craterian Theater in Medford. The second concert, “Ashland Pops,” with a completely different program, is at 8 p.m. on Thursday, July 4, at the Ashland High School Football Stadium, with the Ashland Chamber of Commerce fireworks show to follow.

Performing in two venues allows the band to shine in very different acoustical settings — a concert hall with its sense of intimacy and presence, and a football stadium with its capacity for a bigger crowd and a more lavishly produced show.

“The two programs this year have some truly amazing artists,” said Max McKee of Ashland, founder and executive director of ABC.

“World-class soloists Allen Vizzutti on trumpet and Chris Castellanos on horn will be featured in our June 25th Craterian concert,” he said.

Vizzutti, an internationally acclaimed classical and jazz artist, will perform the perennially popular “Carnival of Venice,” a virtuoso tour de force, variations arranged by Del Staigers. Castellanos will be showcased in “Triumphant Journey” for French horn and band. He joined the Las Vegas Philharmonic at age 18 and quickly established himself as a top-call freelancer on the Las Vegas Strip.

The two also will be featured in the Craterian grand finale, “Caravan to Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” a specially commissioned medley arranged by some of the best in the business.

This world premiere will include “Somewhere” from “West Side Story,” arranged by jazz great Stan Kenton; “Over the Rainbow” from “The Wizard of Oz,” arranged by Rick DeJonge, who composes and scores for film and TV; and “Caravan” by Duke Ellington, arranged for band by J.D. Shaw of the University of South Carolina and formerly with the Boston Brass.

The Disney connection will be revealed in the outdoor Pops Show on July 4 at Ashland High School Stadium on Mountain Avenue. Husband and wife vocalists Peter and Evynne Hollens are the featured performers.

“Both are incredible vocalists,” said McKee, “and have a monster online following.”

They’ll sing selections from a variety of Disney productions, sometimes accompanied by the concert band, and sometimes by a jazz combo comprising local musicians Nevin Van Manen on piano, Bruce McKern on string bass and Theresa McCoy on drums.

A highlight of the show will be “Evolution of the Disney Princess” in which Evynne will sing “Someday My Prince Will Come” from “Snow White,” “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” from “Cinderella,” “Part of Your World” from “The Little Mermaid,” and “Let It Go” from “Frozen.” During the medley, she will do quick changes into costumes representing the four princesses.

Peter, a University of Oregon alum, is a graduate of Ashland High School. The singer/songwriter’s music has more than a billion views and more than 5 million followers and subscribers on YouTube and Facebook.

Evynne, also a UO alum, is a Eugene native. She is a singer, actor, director, producer and composer. She and Peter had their Broadway debut in 2017 in the show “Home for the Holidays, Live on Broadway” at the August Wilson Theatre.

Kicking off the July Fourth show will be a stirring production of “... That Our Flag Was Still There,” commissioned by ABC in 2016 and featuring a parade of flags from 37 states and three foreign countries, carried by the senior-most students in this year’s American Band College.

Several notable guest conductors will take the baton. Among them are Mike Bankhead, a former commander/conductor of the U.S. Air Force Band; Dutch composer Johan de Meij, who will conduct three numbers, including two of his own; Loras Schissel, who conducts internationally; and Lewis Norfleet, director of bands at Central Washington University (CWU).

McKee has seen the American Band College program grow considerably over the past 30 years. First affiliated with Southern Oregon University where McKee was director of bands, then with Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, it is now aligned with CWU in Ellensburg.

Serving with him on the ABC leadership team are his son, Scott McKee, CEO since 2015; and Paul Kassulke, director of operations. Both are longtime conductors. The senior McKee’s wife, Nell, helps with development and hosts several dinners at the McKee home for groups of students and mentors.

Students in the ABC program are required to attend three summer workshops in Ashland. They are exposed to some of the top teachers, mentors and artists in the concert band field over a three-week period.

McKee lives and breathes concert band music. His passion and enthusiasm will be on display at the two concerts when the result of that dedication fills the air with the sound of soaring woodwinds, brilliant brass, and pulsing rhythms of the percussion section.

Tickets for the June 25 Craterian performance are $25 for adults and $15 for students; tickets to the July 4 show are $19 for adults, $15 for students, and $50 for a family of up to six.

For information and tickets, call 541-778-3161, go to bandworld.org/tickets, Cripple Creek Music at 353 E. Main in Ashland, or craterian.org for the June 25 concert (choose seats online).

Jim Flint is a retired newspaper editor and publisher living in Ashland. Reach him at jimflint.ashland@yahoo.com.

Evynne and Peter Hollens will be in the spotlight at the July 4 concert in Ashland, singing songs from beloved Disney productions.
Chris Castellanos, a Las Vegas top performer, will be a featured soloist at the ABC band concert June 25 at the Craterian Theater in Medford.