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ABC band directors’ program will return to Ashland in 2022

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Clarinetist Julian Bliss will be a headliner when the ABC band performs next summer in Ashland, after a pandemic detour of two years. ABC photo
Irish fiddler and Riverdance star Haley Richardson will be a special guest artist in a return engagement with ABC in 2023. She was 13 years old when she first performed here in 2016. Courtesy photo
Jazz trombonist and former Dukes of Dixieland performer Harry Watters will be a guest artist at next summer’s ABC band concert. ABC photo

American Band College will return to Ashland in 2022 for its annual 18-day summer clinic for band directors after a pandemic detour forced them online in 2020 and to the Puget Sound in 2021.

The summer clinics, each with two public concerts, are part of ABC’s master’s degree program.

Up to 200 strong in recent years, summer workshop attendees will present concerts at two venues in 2022 — a June 26 performance at Craterian Theater and the traditional Fourth of July concert at Ashland High School Stadium with fireworks following. The band also plans to march in the Ashland Fourth of July parade.

The program, founded by Ashland’s Max McKee, enrolls students from around the world for its three-year master’s degree program. McKee serves as the executive director of the organization, and his son Scott is the CEO.

Max McKee and his wife, Nell, recently returned from a five-week tour of Europe, including visits to Greece, London and Ireland.

While in Greece, they checked in with two ABC grads (2003 and 2006) in Thessaloniki — Yiannis Kouokas and Nikos Chrysouhoou.

“They are amazing,” McKee said. “Between them, they have over 150 players in their two concert bands. I saw up close all the great things those two men have done for band music in Greece.”

McKee said they are the “go-to” directors in Greece when it comes to band music and band festivals. They will return to Ashland next summer to guest conduct at the Fourth of July concert.

Concert guest artists will be Julian Bliss on clarinet and Harry Watters on trombone. The two appeared with the ABC band in its Craterian concert in 2019.

Bliss, a concert soloist and jazz artist, has performed recently with the Sao Paolo Symphony, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra of Paris, BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, and the London Philharmonic. In 2012, he established the Julian Bliss Septet, creating programs inspired by jazz great Benny Goodman.

Watters toured with the Dukes of Dixieland for four years, and was in demand as a Bourbon Street musician when doing graduate work at the University of New Orleans, serving as the graduate assistant to Professor Ellis Marsalis. Today he performs internationally and has recorded extensively.

Guest composers will be Randall Standridge and Julie Giroux.

Standridge is marching band editor for Grand Mesa Music Publishers. He is in demand as a clinician, drill designer and music arranger. A resident of Jonesboro, Arkansas, he also is a freelance artist, photographer and writer.

Giroux, whose first published work for concert band was composed when she was 13, now has more than 100 film, television and video game credits. She has collaborated with Martin Scorsese, Madonna, Celene Dion, Clint Eastwood, Michael Jackson, Harry Connick Jr. and many others. Nominated for Emmy, Oscar and Golden Globe awards, she has won three Emmys.

When in London on their recent trip, the McKees attended two 25-year celebration performances of Riverdance. The Riverdance fiddler, Haley Richardson, performed in an Irish-themed show with ABC in 2016 when she was 13 years old.

“She’s one of the best fiddlers of all time,” McKee said. “Riverdance composer Bill Whelan created a five-minute segment in the production, featuring Haley as the single player on stage.”

The McKees took her to dinner after one of the performances to finalize details for her 2023 return appearance at ABC.

ABC recently finalized purchase of a building in Ashland at the corner of Siskiyou Boulevard and Liberty, originally the Hillside Church.

The 6,000-square-foot structure will be remodeled to create high-density storage space for ABC’s music collection (now housed at Lincoln School), as well as a study area, rehearsal space and a place for music prep setup. The lower floor will be used to store equipment.

“We had architectural drawings created for a new building to be placed on Ashland School District property,” McKee said. “But the $1.3 million price tag increased to $3.2 million.” Rather than jeopardize ABC’s endowment, they switched gears.

“There’s a small house on the property that we’ll rent out to help pay the bills,” he said.

A second house, donated by patron and supporter Gladys Wright, will be sold by ABC, effectively halving the cost of the church acquisition.

“Gladys and her husband, Al, were kingpins in band music for 80 years,” McKee said. Al Wright died last year at the age of 104, and Gladys Wright is 96.

ABC is making arrangements with Ashland School District to use high school facilities for rehearsal space, as in previous years.

Program enrollees learn from some of the nation’s top band technicians and clinicians during the three summer programs. About half of the three-year degree work is done at home, between summers.

Candidates are required to complete six projects, two each year. They include work based on a five-hour entrance exam, sound and video recordings, and a final in-depth project dealing with their 20 favorite clinic sessions (out of more than 150) and 30 favorite band pieces (out of nearly 400).

A day-long final exam for third-year enrollees July 5 completes the program each summer. It’s comprehensive, to say the least. It includes a written exam; giving start-up lessons in clarinet, horn and snare drum to students who have never played the instruments; and a diagnostic rehearsal as a band performs what McKee calls the BooBoo Concert.

“Each candidate conducts one of four 35-piece bands of non-graduating master’s candidates who have 25 specific mistakes to perform,” he said. “The candidate has 12 minutes to find as many of those errors as possible.”

McKee has been passionate about concert band music for decades. He was director of bands at SOU before founding the ABC master’s degree program in 1989.

ABC was first affiliated with SOU, then with Sam Houston State University, and now with Central Washington University in Ellensburg.

“It’s amazing to me to see the ever-present interest of so many of our 1,200 grads,” McKee said. “To this day, we are still in touch with all but 75 of the group of 1,200.”

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