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Band College goes live in 2021, but not in Ashland

The American Band College, a three-year band directors’ master’s degree program based in Ashland that went online in 2020 because of the pandemic, will be back with face-to-face summer clinics and concerts in 2021 — but not in Ashland.

ABC needed to announce a location by the middle of March. Unable to ascertain whether its usual venues at Ashland High School would be available, the organization is finalizing plans to move to a major university in another state where everything is open. An announcement is expected within the next two weeks.

“We’ll be back in 2022,” said founder and Executive Director Max McKee. “We just needed to go somewhere in the interim where lockdowns are not in place.”

The American Band College has been an Ashland tradition for more than 30 years, with a program that included an appearance in the Fourth of July parade and a concert on the Fourth culminating with the Ashland Chamber of Commerce fireworks show.

The need to finalize plans for 2021 by mid-March is based on recruitment timelines, setting up 40 airline flights for staff and clinicians, confirming hotel space for 250 people, and knowing how many people will be allowed in facilities for multiple rehearsals and lectures.

McKee’s son Scott McKee, CEO of ABC, had been working with the Ashland School District, hoping that ABC could remain in Ashland this summer.

“But the schools won’t be meeting until May to discuss their rules for event hosting,” Max McKee said.

Ashland Schools Superintendent Samuel Bogdanove said the district values the ABC program and hopes to continue to support it in the future. However, uncertainties regarding ever-changing state guidelines make planning difficult.

“We don’t yet know about our capacity for any facility rental due to COVID restrictions and the need for summer programs,” he said. “We anticipate we will have more information in May.”

The 2020 online ABC was termed successful by the organizers, but not a good substitute for the real thing.

“We feel that going virtual again would kill ABC,” McKee said.

He believes it’s the internal “family engine” of a live conference that drives participation, with two-thirds of attendees returning each year. That effect is missing in an online version.

“We’ll be lucky to get half in 2021, and likely would be down to 50 or fewer in 2022 with that ‘engine’ gone,” McKee said.

In addition to about three weeks of clinics and workshops each summer, there are two concerts — one at Medford’s Craterian Theatre, and a second about a week later on the Fourth of July at the high school football stadium. Both concerts feature noted guest conductors and guest artists.

The annual influx of master’s degree candidates and their families has a big economic impact on Ashland and the Rogue Valley.

“Just what we deliver to the school district is over $60,000,” McKee said. “Our catered services through the school’s kitchen and cafeteria facilities represent almost an additional $50,000.”

Add to that three weeks of motel stays for more than 200 people, meals in restaurants, theater rentals, car rentals, shopping, tours and more.

“We’ve spent $250,000 on motels,” McKee said. “Then there’s the draw of hundreds of family members who come to Ashland for several days to attend our graduation ceremony and the concerts.

“We definitely don’t want to move,” he said, “but even with the success of the virtual ABC last year, we know that another year without person-to-person experiences will kill the momentum long in place.”

This year’s lineup of featured artists includes prestigious guest conductors from around the country, guest composer Julie Giroux, who has published a large collection of works for wind band, and clinicians from leading universities, representing a variety of disciplines.

Headlining the concerts in 2021 will be two internationally performing guest ensembles — The Moanin’ Frogs, a saxophone sextet; and The Boston Brass, a group with a 31-year history and a busy performing and recording schedule.

You can find more information and frequent updates at bandworld.org.

Reach Ashland writer Jim Flint at jimflint.ashland@yahoo.com.

ABC photoMaster’s degree candidates in the American Band College ride in the 2019 Ashland Fourth of July parade. The ABC is moving out of state for 2021.