After 25 years as director, Don Bieghler steps down Thursday
By Peter Finkle for Ashland News
Don Bieghler, beloved Ashland City Band Director for 25 years, announced his retirement from that position during last Thursday evening’s concert in Lithia Park. Most of the 300-plus people in attendance rose to their feet in a rousing standing ovation. Both band and audience members will miss him, but not lose him. At the end of this article, I’ll tell you the “good news” part of his announcement.
A Southern Oregon native, Bieghler came to music at a young age, due to his natural curiosity. In his elementary school, the kids were offered a chance to learn a band instrument. He jumped at the chance because, “I always had an interest in doing something new.” Pretty soon, he was learning to play clarinet. By the time he got to Medford High School, band was his favorite class.
Next stop on his journey was Southern Oregon College (now SOU), where the college Band Director Herb Cecil was also the City Band Director. It was Cecil who invited the freshman Bieghler to play clarinet in the City Band during the summer of 1963. Bieghler surprised me by saying, “I was actually not aware that the City Band existed.” It was exciting for him to play in a community band with experienced players of all ages, and to be exposed to new music.
After getting a fifth-year teaching degree from University of Oregon, Bieghler came back to the Rogue Valley to become the band teacher at Scenic Junior High in Central Point. His 13 years at the junior high was followed by 17 years as band director at Crater High School.
Bieghler was ready to retire in 1997, having taught school for 30 years. And 1997 was the same year Raoul Maddox retired as Ashland City Band Director after 21 years in the position. Perfect timing! Bieghler applied for the City Band job, was hired, and has loved doing it for the past 25 years.
Praise from clarinetist Ed Wight
Ed Wight has been in the City Band for 39 years. This story is about Bieghler as a student-teacher. “Bob Bork was a music teacher in Medford (and also a family friend) before moving upstate in the 1980s. I visited him in 1998, and told him Don had been appointed City Band conductor. Bob said that in his career as a teacher, Don Bieghler was far and away the best student teacher he ever supervised.”
Wight praised Bieghler’s conducting skills. “Also, to Don’s extraordinary credit, in 25 years of concerts, we’ve only crashed and burned once. Sometimes in large ensembles, players can drive a band apart in performance, taking different tempos. Or a conductor can miss a meter change and conduct a wrong tempo or pattern. In such cases the band, with the conductor, will try to get back together as quickly as possible without stopping. It can happen, but only once was it hopeless. We simply couldn’t right the ship. Don quietly cut us off, said “start at bar 47” and resumed. In 25 years of concerts, all with only one rehearsal! Don is a truly great conductor.”
A City Band story from Don Bieghler
When I asked him for a memorable experience, Bieghler described a dramatic moment in Guanajuato, Ashland’s sister city in Mexico. “One interesting story was on our City Band trip to Guanajuato in 1994. We were on stage in the opera house playing a dramatic-sounding song. There was a period of silence in the song, and all at once there was a tremendous crash of thunder outside that just filled that gap. It was like an act of God.”
More praise — from Mike Knox
I spoke with tubist Mike Knox, who has shared the stage with Bieghler in the City Band for 54 years and in the Rogue Valley Symphony for 53 years. Knox said of Bieghler. “He knows his stuff. You have to call him ‘a band director’s’ band director.’ He has the respect of probably close to a dozen band directors and semi-professional musicians who are in the City Band. He knows the literature. He does his research. He knows all these entertaining stories to please the crowd. Plus he’s one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.”
I will give the closing words to Don Bieghler
During an interview, he told me, “One of the things I most appreciate about conducting the band are the wonderful audiences that come to the concerts every week. We have good community support. People come up to me that I see every week, to make a comment or give a compliment. They’re curious about what we do and they appreciate that the city supports the band.”
Now for the “good news” part of Bieghler’s announcement last Thursday. After telling the audience he was retiring as director after 25 years in that position, he emotionally described being part of the band for 60 years in all. Then he assured us he would stay on as one of the band musicians. Will he be able to break Raoul Maddox’s record of serving 71 years in the Ashland City Band? Stay tuned.
Peter Finkle writes about Ashland history, neighborhoods, public art and more. See WalkAshland.com for his Ashland stories.