Ashland City Band, Part 1: Meet the conductors

This photo shows Butler Bandshell, the beautiful Lithia Park setting for Ashland City Band concerts, in 2015. Peter Finkle photo
June 9, 2022

146-year tradition starts anew June 16 in Lithia Park

By Peter Finkle for Ashland News

Join a 146-year tradition and come hear the Ashland City Band this summer! Its roots go back to 1876. Funding for the band was even written into the Ashland City Charter by our citizens in 1938. It is one of only two city bands in the state of Oregon that give a full slate of weekly concerts each summer.

The Ashland Concert Band (as the City Band was then called) was photographed in 1916 on the elevated bandstand in Lithia Park. Southern Oregon Historical Society photo

Today you will meet three musicians who between them have 170 years of experience either playing in or conducting the Ashland City Band: Don Bieghler, Raoul Maddox and Ed Wight. On July 7, 2019, I sat around a dining room table with them.

First was Don Bieghler, now the longest-serving conductor in the history of Ashland City Band. If you attend band concerts, you hear his informative introductions to each piece of music. He has been conductor for 24 years and with the band for a total of 60 years.

Conductor Don Bieghler of the Ashland City Band in 2015. Greg Badger photo

Bieghler joined the band in 1963 as a clarinet player, and then transitioned to conductor in 1998 when he took over from Raoul Maddox. Wight described Bieghler as “truly beloved,” one reason why band members are so loyal, returning to play year in and year out.

Second was the late Raoul Maddox, who was with the Ashland City Band for 71 years, from 1947 to 2018! Of those 71 years, he was the band conductor for 21 years, from 1977 to 1997. Maddox joined the band as a trombone player at age 14, while attending Medford High School. Sadly, Maddox passed away in September 2020.

The third City Band member at the table was Ed Wight — not a conductor, but the son of a conductor. Wight joined the band as a 15-year-old clarinet player in 1966.

Seen here in 2015, Raoul Maddox, who died in 2020, played trombone for the Ashland City Band for 50 years, and also conducted the band for another 21 years. Greg Badger photo

You might call Wight a band “princeling,” because his father, Dave Wight, conducted the band for nine years, from 1968 to 1976. Since Ed lived away from Ashland for a number of years, he has now played in the band for 39 years. He has also served as Band Librarian for 30 of those years.

Creative conducting

Ed told me a funny anecdote about his father’s creativity. A few minutes before he was to conduct a concert, his father, Dave, discovered he’d left his conductor’s baton at home. There was no time to get it, so Dave broke a tiny branch off a tree and used it for the concert.

Three special conductors

Bieghler, Maddox and Wight described three former conductors who stand out for their transformative influence on the band:

Ward Croft, conductor from the 1920s to 1941, established the summer tradition of Thursday nights in Lithia Park (which we still enjoy). Early city bands contained almost exclusively brass instruments. Croft expanded the band to include a full complement of woodwind players (flutes, oboes, clarinets, saxophones and bassoons). It was now a full concert band. As an aside, Croft even featured the “Little Symphony” orchestra for some Thursday concerts in the park during the early 1930s. This Little Symphony was a precursor to today’s full Rogue Valley Symphony.

Glenn Matthewswas conductor in 1947 and from 1951 to 1954. You might be surprised to know that for decades the national anthem was played at the end of each concert. Matthews began our current tradition of opening each concert with “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Bieghler and Wight also praised Raoul Maddox, who was sitting at the table with us. While conducting from 1977 to 1997, Maddox expanded the band from about 55 players to 75-80 players. More important than quantity was the boost in performance quality during Maddox’s tenure. Wight told me, “the band is not only bigger, it’s better — as it now draws consistently on Rogue Valley Symphony wind players, (Southern Oregon University) faculty members and local band teachers who want to play during the summer.” 

The first Ashland City Band concert of 2022 starts at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 16, at the Lithia Park Bandshell. Pre-concert music begins at 6:15 p.m. Bring a chair and a picnic dinner and enjoy this century-old community tradition.

Uplifting moments

Ed Wight described a moment in the band’s history that deeply moved him. “While we get a partial standing ovation at the end of every concert, we almost never get one during the concert itself. I only remember one such occasion. In 2012 we performed a medley of Irving Berlin tunes. It was a glorious arrangement, and closed with one of his two most famous songs — ‘God Bless America.’  It was such a beautiful, heartfelt version, the audience spontaneously stood as one — and that brought tears to my eyes.”

This is one small example of how the Ashland City Band uplifts us and brings us together as a community. We are fortunate to have this dedicated group of musicians in our midst, summer after summer, year after year.

There are many more Ashland City Band stories to tell. I will describe the band’s history and share other funny and meaningful band stories in Parts 2, 3 and 4 of this series.

Peter Finkle writes about Ashland history, neighborhoods, public art and more. See WalkAshland.com for his Ashland stories.

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Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.
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