The Ashland City Band will hold its first concert of the summer this evening, continuing a tradition that reaches back to 1876.

The Ashland City Band will hold its first concert of the summer this evening, continuing a tradition that reaches back to 1876.

The performance will feature a mix of crowd-pleasing standards and some more challenging classical pieces.

"I select music I know people will like," City Band Director Don Bieghler said. "Broadway numbers, big band, marches — some of the popular things."

The program this week starts out with "Strike Up The Band," followed by "The Star Spangled Banner," then hits on favorites such as "Over The Rainbow" from "The Wizard of Oz" and a tribute to Glenn Miller.

It also slips in a more complex piece now and then to keep things interesting for the musicians.

But boredom is not a serious possibility for the musicians — or the people who come to hear the performances every Thursday. Each week includes a new set of songs which the group must master in one rehearsal.

"The main criteria for members is sight reading," Bieghler said. "They have to be very good at picking up a new piece of music and read it as easily as you would read a book. We practice on Wednesday and the music changes every week. We go through nearly 100 pieces in a year."

There are about 70 people in the band at present, which makes for a rich mix of sound from the various instruments.

"For a community band I think that's a good number," Bieghler said.

That includes about 10 in the flute and piccolo section, three oboes, three bassoons, about 15 clarinets ranging from B flat to contra, a handful of saxophones and more than 20 trumpets and French horns. The remainder of the instruments are the resonant brass trombones, bass trombones, tubas and euphonium. About 10 percussionists keep the rhythm going throughout the concert.

"We could probably get by with three tubas, but five gets the depth of sound," said Bieghler, explaining how he arranges the instrument sections.

The origins of the Ashland City Band go back to the 1870s when the Ashland Brass Band was formed.

"It was very typical of small communities to have a small band, and very often it was a brass band," Bieghler said. "The brass are always going to project more."

The early band played at city events, and there are a number of historical photographs on the city band's Web site and archived at the Southern Oregon Historical Society that show the early days of the band and trace its evolution.

By 1915, a group called the Ashland Concert Band had formed and made regular appearances in parades and other events. That band became the Ashland Municipal Band and eventually the Ashland City Band. In 1938 the city passed a levy to support the band, and that support has continued to this day.

In the early days, the band performed in Lithia Park in a small gazebo near the area of today's Butler Band Shell. Members climbed up to the gazebo stage through a trap door in the floor, according to longtime member Raoul Maddox.

Maddox, 77, has played in the band since he was 16 in 1947.

"One of the things I remember about my first concert there was it was not in the band shell but in the old gazebo. I remember the struggle to get up there."

Maddox is a trombone player, and is devoted to the band.

"It's my life," he said. "I've played the trombone since the sixth grade. I've seen a lot of band directors and I was a director myself for 21 years. I even played in the very first concert in the band shell."

The Butler Band Shell was built in 1949, and the band has played its summer concerts there ever since.

The band performs regularly on Thursdays throughout the summer at Lithia Park, but is also a crowd favorite on the Fourth of July each year.

"On July 4th it's a more spirited crowd," Bieghler said. "Our Thursday night audience has a portion from retirement homes and a lot of local regulars. On the Fourth we see more out-of-towners. It's a younger crowd."

This season the band will include weekly special performances by guest soloists and small groups. The concert tonight will include a piece by guest soloist Julia Cuppy, who will sing "Over the Rainbow." Cuppy will play the role of Dorothy in Rogue Music Theater's production of "The Wizard of Oz" in Grants Pass.

Each week a guest conductor from the community will be invited to direct a song.

The concerts are at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays at the Butler Band Shell in Lithia Park starting today and running through Aug. 12. The starting times may move up to 7:15 p.m. in the later weeks of the season as the sun begins to set earlier in the day. Pre-concert performances begin at 6:40 p.m.

The band will march in the July 4 parade as well as put on a concert at the band shell on Independence Day at 12:30 p.m.

For information on the band, see the Web site ashlandband.org or e-mail Bieghler at director@ashlandband.org.

Reach reporter and editor Myles Murphy at 541-482-3456 ext. 222 or mmurphy@dailytidings.com.