The rain-dance parade and other stories
In this article, the last in a four-part series about the Ashland City Band, you will learn about the Guanajuato "rain-dance parade" and a couple who moved to Ashland just so they could play in the City Band. The series is based primarily on 2019 interviews with three men, Don Bieghler, Ed Wight and the late Raoul Maddox, who between them have 164 years of experience with the Ashland City Band.
During our interview, band director Don Bieghler shocked me when he said: “We’ve had people move to Ashland so they could play in the Ashland City Band.”
He was talking about Peggie and Herb Greuling. They had been living in Florida, where Herb had just retired from the U.S. Air Force band.
As Peggie told the story to a Seattle Times reporter, she and her husband wanted to retire in a college town with four seasons, but not too cold. They hoped to find “the kind of place where they have band concerts on Sunday afternoons.”
The couple flew to Portland, rented a car, and drove thousands of miles exploring the West Coast. They were frustrated. Nothing struck them as a new “home.”
When they returned the rental car in Portland, they expressed their frustration to the rental car clerk, who responded: “You should have tried Ashland.”
Former band director Maddox said he remembered receiving a letter from the Greulings, and responding with detailed information about Ashland and the City Band. Not long afterward, the couple moved to Ashland.
They lived in Ashland for more than 26 years, where both played in the band — Peggie on saxophone and Herb on bass clarinet. Both were excellent musicians. In addition to playing in the band, Peggie was a school music teacher for many years. She played 11 instruments in order to be able to work with all the students.
I was happily surprised to find a YouTube video of the Ashland City Band in the 1990s playing songs that Peggie Greuling wrote. Leona Mitchell was the vocalist and Peggie played saxophone solos. If you would like to see it, go to YouTube and type "Peggie Greuling" in the search bar.
Peggie passed away in 2018 at the age of 93, just weeks before the couple’s 60th wedding anniversary.
The next two stories occurred during one of the Ashland City Band's visits to Guanajuato.
“We were on stage in the opera house, and we were doing this dramatic-sounding song,” Bieghler recalled. “There was a period of silence in the song, and all at once there was a tremendous crash of thunder and lightning outside that just filled that gap. It was like an act of God.”
Maddox told a story about the "rain-dance parade." According to Maddox, the band was drenched as it marched in a parade in Guanajuato. But it wasn't just any parade.
“It was a parade to bring on the rains to fill the city's reservoirs,” he said. “Halfway through the parade it started to rain, and by the time we got through, the rain was bouncing 10 inches off the ground. Everybody was just soaked. So we came around this place avoiding all the gargoyles that were spitting water out from the freeways and the buildings, and went into a parking garage. A lot of the other companies that were in the parade [Mexican bands] were already in there when we came in. We were all like drowned rats; we were wet. They greeted us and then pretty soon we were all entertaining each other, and it was just like a wonderful homecoming. There were probably a couple hundred people in the parking garage trying to get out of the rain. It was a lot of fun. And it was a successful parade.”
If you have heard the Gettysburg Address during a 4th of July City Band concert, you may enjoy this back story. 2013 was the 150th anniversary of the Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address. That 4th of July, local actor Bob Jackson Miner spoke the powerful words of the Gettysburg address after the annual recitation of our country's Declaration of Independence.
The following year, Bieghler and Miner came up with an idea to add to the emotion of the Gettysburg address. In 1998, the City Band had played a piece called “American Civil War Fantasy” that has a long drumroll during the piece. They planned the timing of the Gettysburg address to be spoken during the drumroll with only one rehearsal.
After the 2014 concert, one of the band members told Bieghler, “I had tears coming down my eyes” as they played the piece. Community members who heard the speech were so moved that Miner has spoken the Gettysburg address each 4th of July since then.
I will give the closing words to current band director Don Bieghler: “One of the things I most appreciate about the band is 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.”
Peter Finkle writes about Ashland history, neighborhoods, public art and more. See WalkAshland.com for his Ashland stories.