Ashland City Band introduces first woman director

Christi Lundahl and Don Bieghler at the Ashland City Band concert on Aug. 11. Alice Mallory photo
December 15, 2022

It’s the first time a woman has led the group since it began 146 years ago

By Peter Finkle for Ashland.news

The roots of our City Band go back to 1876! Through 146 years, through thousands of concerts, a man has always been the band director. Until now.

Christi Lundahl, the first female director in the 146-year history of the Ashland City Band told me this: “When I first started teaching band in central Florida, I felt it was necessary to be perceived as more masculine in order to stand in front of an ensemble and earn the respect of my students. I would only wear high-necked shirts and trousers, rarely had my hair down, and even made an effort to speak with a deeper voice, trying to sound as authoritative as possible. Over the years, I have unlearned that behavior and realized that I don’t need to emulate traditionally masculine behaviors to be well-respected. I can still be my feminine self and have found that students appreciate the authenticity, with mutual respect given much more freely.”

Ashland’s four band directors in August 2022. From front to back: Jenifer Carstensen (Ashland Middle School band), Ivan Olinghouse (Ashland High School band), Christi Lundahl (SOU bands and Rogue Valley Symphonic Band), Don Bieghler (Ashland City Band, now retired). Peter Finkle photo

Through a lifetime and career filled with both tough lessons and inspiring mentors, Lundahl has learned to be a band conductor who expresses her feminine self. She has faced the challenge of being a woman in a male-dominated field. Despite this, her talent, work ethic, and sheer love for conducting have led to her becoming well-respected, sought after, and influential in the world of Oregon band music. She has become, in her own right, an inspiration and a mentor to musically-inclined girls, young women and female colleagues. 

The Ashland City Band is fortunate to have someone of Lundahl’s caliber to fill the big shoes of Don Bieghler, the recently-retired band director. After 25 years, Bieghler was the longest serving director in the history of the band. He will continue to play clarinet in the band, as he has done (when not conducting) since 1963.

Lundahl grew up in a musical family. She told me this fun story about her parents and her early life: “They met when they were in high school band! My dad was the drum major and played saxophone, and my mom was a flute player. Later on, my dad became a high school director, and when I was little, I was basically their band mascot. I got to hang out at all the rehearsals and go on trips with them.”

As a senior in high school, Lundahl met Sarah McKoin, a college band director who set the direction for her life. As she put it, “I was in an honor band at Florida State for a couple of days. I loved her energy and what she was doing. I said to myself during one of her rehearsals, ‘That is what I want to do when I grow up.’ It was a pretty incredible experience.” 

Christi Lundahl with her father, Rich Lundahl, and younger sister, Katie. The photo was taken after a Florida all-state honor band concert, when Christi was in eighth grade. Her father conducted the band and she played trumpet. Family photo

After teaching high school band in Florida for six years, Lundahl went on to get her master’s and doctoral degrees in Wind Band Conducting. After completing her doctorate at the University of Michigan, she applied for university band director jobs around the country in early 2021. As Lundahl put it, she got several offers, but the opportunity to live in Ashland and be the Director of Bands at SOU while also getting to direct the Rogue Valley Symphonic Band “spoke to me.” 

She moved here in July 2021 to new jobs and a new city — two huge challenges at the same time. Then something magical happened. Here is her heartfelt description of another life-changing moment.

“The City Band is what made me fall in love with Ashland when I first got here. I didn’t know a soul; all my friends and family are on the East Coast. Don Bieghler reached out to me and said, ‘I’d love for you to conduct a piece at our next Ashland City Band concert,’ and I eagerly accepted. I got to rehearse the band and meet lots of wonderful new people and experience that concert. I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever seen — this whole community of people with their blankets and charcuterie, just hanging out on the hillside, with the sun going down behind the trees, and everyone making music together. I thought, ‘This is a magic place. It is full of people who appreciate the arts.’ A lot of people who are from here originally don’t realize how special and rare this is, because this doesn’t happen everywhere else.”

Christi Lundahl’s vision as new City Band Director is to build on the 146-year history and “special and rare” quality of our Ashland band. She will be able to increase cooperation between SOU bands and the City Band. She has a wealth of connections to draw talent from, both locally and statewide.

She sees the possibility for the City Band to play in additional settings around the community, even to be part of what draws people to Ashland. I will let her have the last word: “We have incredible musicians in the Rogue Valley. There is a two-time Grammy winner in the band, as well as someone who played professionally with the Carpenters and Michael Jackson, among others. They retire and they come to us, bringing their wealth of experiences. Using our immensely talented players to draw tourists, celebrate the rich culture of arts appreciation with the locals, and continue to bring people together in our shared love of music – that’s what we will be working toward.” 

Peter Finkle gives Ashland history and art walking tours. See WalkAshland.com for walking tour information, or to request a custom tour.

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