It will be an evening of stars — on stage as well as in the sky — as the American Band College (ABC) celebrates its 30th anniversary with a concert at Ashland High School stadium at 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 4, followed by fireworks.
The concert headliner is Canadian Brass, a quintet in its 47th year that performs internationally. Founder and tuba player Chuck Daellenbach, along with trumpeters Caleb Hudson and Christopher Coletti, trombonist Achilles Liarmakopoulos, and horn player Bernhard Scully, will play three sets, two with the full band.
And it will be one heckuva band. Two-hundred strong, it is comprised of band directors from all over the world, in Ashland for a three-week summer program as part of ABC’s master’s degree program.
“One of the highlights will be our annual presentation of flags,” said ABC founder and executive director Max McKee of Ashland.
“We commissioned a special work entitled, ‘That Our Flag Was Still There,’ by composer Mike Davis. The band will play that piece while the senior-most students from every represented state parade with the flags of their states,” he said.
Also represented will be flags of foreign countries represented in the band and historic flags.
“This is a show, not just a concert,” McKee said. Showmaster Lance LaDuke will emcee the evening’s program in his fifth appearance with the band.
The primary conductor will be Mike Bankhead, a retired commander and conductor of the United States Air Force Band in Washington D.C.
There will be several guest conductors, including some ABC graduates.
A featured soloist will be flutist Marianne Gedigian, holder of the Butler Professorship in Music at the University of Texas. She was a regular performer with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Pops. You can hear her on several John Williams film scores, including “Saving Private Ryan” and “Schindler’s List.” She is also one of the ABC lecturers for the summer program.
At the conclusion of the regular concert program, the band will accompany the Ashland Chamber of Commerce’s fireworks show with a medley of John Philip Sousa marches. Even though the fireworks are launched off-site nearby, the Ashland High School stadium provides one of the best places in town to view the show.
ABC Executive Director McKee, 76, has lived in Ashland for 51 years. It was when he was Director of Bands at Southern Oregon University that he got the idea for a workshop designed to prepare students to be better band directors, not just learn how to play their instruments.
The undergraduate program, which began in 1989, morphed into a full-fledged three-year master’s program in 1992, today encompassing 40 disciplines of study.
First affiliated with SOU, then with Sam Houston State University (Huntsville, Texas) from 2010 to 2018, ABC just recently switched its affiliation to Central Washington University of Ellensburg.
Students pay $7,000 per year for the master’s program, which includes three three-week summer programs in Ashland along with their studies during the rest of the year. Each summer they are exposed to some of the top teachers, mentors and artists in the concert band field. All summer workshops, housing, and meals are covered in the tuition.
McKee’s son, Scott McKee, joined the organization full-time in 2002 and became the CEO in 2015.
McKee’s wife, Nell, helps with development and every three nights during the summer program hosts a series of sit-down dinners at the McKee home for 25 students and mentors.
Prior to enrolling in the master’s program, potential students take a five-hour entrance exam, ostensibly to learn where they most need work. On July 5, program participants will take a closing exam that includes questions from about 10,000 in a special software program that helps track their progress.
McKee lives and breathes concert band music. His passion and enthusiasm will be on display the night of the Fourth when the result of that dedication fills the air with soaring woodwinds, brilliant brass, and the pulsing rhythms of the percussion section.
Tickets are $19 for adults, $17 for seniors (62+) and children under 12, and $50 for a family. They’re available at Cripple Creek music store in Ashland, online at bandworld.org, and at the gate beginning at 6:30 the night of the concert. Gates open at 7 p.m.
Jim Flint is a retired editor and publisher living in Ashland. You can reach him at email@example.com.