After 22 years of conducting the State College Municipal Band and a lifetime of music, Ned Deihl is ready to finally put down the baton, for good this time.
The Municipal Band formed in 1976. Twenty years later, the same spring he retired from Penn State, Deihl took over as conductor.
“Retiring from Penn State wasn’t too depressing because I had this gig waiting in the wings,” Deihl said. “In fact, I had already started it.”
Deihl, who turns 87 this summer, said that 1963 was a big year for him. He got married, had his first child, got a new car and started his job at Penn State.
A dozen years later, in 1975, Deihl stepped up to take over for Blue Band when the director at the time, James Dunlop, passed away suddenly.
Deihl is known for writing the Floating Lions drill, which is still used today. It's when the band spells out the word “lions” on the field for both sides of the stadium, all while playing “Hail to the Lion.”
“That seems to be my legacy,” Deihl said. “I did a lot of music ed, concert band, and that Floating Lions thing seems to be the thing that sticks.”
According to Deihl, the band program in his town growing up wasn’t very good, so he studied clarinet with a private teacher out of town in order to compete in statewide solo competitions.
From there, he went on to get his bachelor’s degree at Indiana University, his master’s at University of Michigan and his doctorate at Penn State. He also took time between his master’s and doctorate when he was drafted to serve two years in the military.
After leaving Penn State, Deihl played in the Nittany Valley Symphony and the Altoona Symphony.
“I felt I didn’t have time to really practice intensively for ... group(s) of that level, many professionals, faculty,” Deihl said. “I decided to play something a little more relaxing like the jazz band, so I’m in the Keystone Society of Swing.”
Aside from that, he still teaches private clarinet lessons for students in the area.
“That’s enough playing,” Deihl said.
Being director of the Municipal Band for 22 years has been a unique experience for Deihl in comparison to working with younger students as he had for so many years.
“The timetable is quite different, some are with the community band for 20 years, and at Penn State maybe only a couple years,” Deihl said.
Deihl also talked about what it’s like to see some members “fade away” as they got too old to play, something that wouldn’t normally happen at a college level.
At its concert in April, the band memorialized all of the members who died during Deihl's tenure as director.
“Some of those guys hung on until they couldn’t climb up on the stage anymore,” Deihl said. “At the same time, you admire it, yet it’s sad to see it.”
One other difference is that the Municipal Band sort of evolved beyond just the “friends and family” audiences, as many school performances and other community bands tend to host.
“The community band was pretty much that before I became conductor in ‘96, so like families only, very small crowds,” Deihl said. “And then we started promoting more, advertising, the band was getting bigger and better, doing more outreach and then the audience got considerably bigger, and that’s been satisfying.”
On the days leading up to a concert, Deihl said it’s all about polishing and making sure everyone is comfortable with his or her parts. He thinks of the band differently from a lot of other community bands by allowing them to play some very high-level music and bringing in first chair musicians who play at a professional level.
“Some people who want to join think it’s maybe a recreation band, maybe play a second instrument, but we try to discourage that,” Deihl said. “It’s somewhat more selective than other bands.”
Still, out of 154 concerts, only one piece stood out as just short of a “trainwreck,” according to Deihl — a time when the French horn entrance came slightly early and led to many other parts entering at the wrong times.
“(The piece) was Mexican, and it was kind of wild anyway,” Deihl said, laughing. “I don’t think the audience ever knew it.”
The band’s Mother's Day concert, held Sunday at Mount Nittany Middle School, will be Deihl’s final performance as director, and he has lined up the repertoire with many of his favorites.
“I like his type of repertoire,” said John Kovalchik, long-time friend of Deihl and "part-time" member of the Municipal Band. “He picks a nice, varied program. Sometimes thematic.”
Kovalchik, who has taught music education himself in State College, also pointed out Deihl’s connections and ability to bring in professional soloists, including members of the Marine Corps Band in Washington D.C., but still finds a way to feature people who are already part of the band.
“He’s used people from the group in novel ways that show off their musicianship but also the range of performers that are already in the band,” Kovalchik said. “I think he has an interesting viewpoint, or perspective, of what to program.”
But Deihl is ready to pass the baton on to the next conductor.
“Now I’m really giving up the baton,” Deihl said. “It’s probably the end of conducting for me.”
Still, it’s possible that in the future, you might see him sit in with his clarinet or guest conduct a piece or two.
“I might go back and play clarinet sometime. I think I won’t be guest conducting it very often, maybe one once in a while,” Deihl said, “especially if they get in the new auditorium. I’ve got to do one number in the new auditorium.”
After this concert, though, Deihl wants to stay away for a while and relax.
“What better gig for a retired band director than doing a community band?” Deihl said. “These people have been great. Excellent musicians, and even better people.”
If you go
What: State College Area Municipal Band's "Conductor Finale"
When: 3 p.m. Sunday
Where: Mount Nittany Middle School, 656 Brandywine Drive, State College