Vaughn Wiester directs Ashland High School's jazz band in a rehearsal on Nov. 7, 2023.

ASHLAND — Vaughn Wiester has written arrangements of music pieces for most of his career, but he’d never been asked to compose an original piece. 

That is, until Ashland High School approached him to compose one for its jazz band to play as part of the year-long celebration for the band’s 100th anniversary

Wiester eventually came up with a piece for the band called “Love, That’s What.” 

Funding from the Ashland County Community Foundation and Ashland City Schools Foundation helped pay for the piece, according to band director Martin Kral.

The Ashland High jazz band will play Wiester’s piece at a “world debut” in its Thursday night concert, Kral said. The concert also features Wiester’s Famous Jazz Orchestra, which is coming from Columbus to play after the high school band.

That concert takes place on Nov. 9 at 7 p.m. in Ashland High’s Archer Auditorium. The show is free and open to the public.

“At first, [the students] were anxious and nervous, but now they’re more confident and excited to do the world debut,” Kral said.

Trying something new

Kral connected with Wiester thanks to a recommendation from the jazz band director at Ashland University. Wiester, who began his musical career as a U.S. Navy musician, has a long list of musical accolades. 

He played in a series of bands, including the Jazz Arts Group of Columbus and the Woody Herman Orchestra, before beginning a 17-year stint as a professor at Capital University. 

Now, Wiester has his own jazz orchestra, which comes together to play in Columbus every Monday night. 

Wiester said it took him weeks to settle on anything for the piece the band commissioned. He ended up choosing a chord progression and going from there. The piece ended up being something new and challenging for the students, Wiester said. 

Neil Ebert, left, directs Ashland High’s jazz band, which commissioned Vaughn Wiester to compose a piece for the jazz band’s first performance of the band’s centennial year. Wiester and Ebert pose in band director Martin Kral’s office on Nov. 7, 2023.

“What satisfies me is the band and the guys here seem to be happy with it,” Wiester said. “The band is learning to play it. It sounds okay and it’s good to go, so I couldn’t be happier. If this is what I’ve got to show for my first composition, so be it. It’s a good piece of work.”

On Tuesday afternoon, he directed the band as they perfected the piece. Music poured out of the room as he coached specific sections of the band. He moved from the trumpet section to the trombones to the saxophones. 

“Keep in mind: No note is written not to be heard,” Wiester told the band.

In addition to performing Wiester’s commissioned piece, which he’ll direct onstage, Wiester’s orchestra will travel to Ashland and play after the Ashland High jazz band. 

Wiester said previous band directors used to bring his group to Ashland often. But, it’s been a while since the orchestra has played in town.

Providing opportunities

Tiffany Sanders, the Ashland Visual and Performing Arts program coordinator, said playing with professional musicians offers valuable opportunities for students to make connections. 

“So many careers are about knowing the right person at the right time,” Sanders said. 

Perry Kral, a 17-year-old senior in the jazz band, agreed that the experience has been valuable. Kral aims to study jazz bass at The Ohio State University once he graduates. He said he enjoyed working with Wiester. It’s made him want to dive deeper into the music. 

“He’s really trying to treat us like pros,” Perry said. “There’s less forgiveness and more expectations to have things right. And it’s faster paced.” 

Neil Ebert, the jazz band teacher at Ashland High School, said it’s humbling to be able to bring in people like Wiester to direct the band. He’s been with Ashland’s band for a long time. Ebert retired in 2008, but ended up right back in the classroom afterwards. 

Being part of the 100-year celebration has been humbling, Ebert said.

“Music here in Ashland — it’s kind of like a religious thing to me,” Ebert said. “It has that kind of feeling. It’s just a really important part of my life, my world.”

Ebert said the jazz band is young this year. He added that the students in jazz band today have overcome a lot to become the musicians they are, with COVID-19 playing a role in some of their formative years of learning music.

Still, Ebert said he’s proud of their hard work. 

“They have character and a heart that was like, ‘I love this,’” Ebert said. “And I’ll take that.”

The Education section is brought to you by Ashland Family YMCA.

This independent, local reporting provided by our Report for America Corps members is brought to you in part by the generous support of the Ashland County Community Foundation.

Ashland Source's Report for America corps member. She covers education and workforce development, among other things, for Ashland Source. Thomas comes to Ashland Source from Montana, where she graduated...