On Dec. 15, 1944, Major Glenn Miller made a suggestion to the pilot of the plane that he was about to take for a flight to Paris in foreboding weather. He reportedly said, “Maybe we ought to call this off,” eliciting a jocular response from the flight officer: “Do you want to live forever?”
The single engine plane subsequently went down over the English Channel. Although the famed bandleader was never heard from again, the legend and the music of the Glenn Miller lives on yet today. The iconic sound of that music will resonate in Henry St. Clair Memorial Hall on Dec. 19, when Darke County Center for the Arts presents the Glenn Miller Orchestra’s “In a Christmas Mood” as part of its 2015-16 Artists Series.
Glenn Miller played for several orchestra leaders including Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey and Benny Goodman before forming his own successful band that broke attendance records at venues ranging from the New York State Fair in Syracuse to the Hershey Park Ballroom in Pennsylvania and also played Carnegie Hall. His amazing string of best-selling records included “Sunrise Serenade,” Moonlight Serenade,” “In the Mood,” “A String of Pearls,” “Moonlight Cocktail,” “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree,” and “Kalamazoo.” His signature sound emphasized the reed section; the clarinet holds the melodic line while the tenor sax plays the same notes supported harmonically by three other saxophones, with growling trombones and wailing trumpets adding pizzaz to the proceedings.
In addition to earning more hit records in one year than anyone in the history of the recording industry, the first Gold Record ever awarded went to the Glenn Miller Orchestra’s recording of “Chattanooga Choo Choo” in 1941. The incredibly popular musical juggernaut was disbanded at the height of its popularity in 1942 when Glenn Miller volunteered for the U.S. Army; he organized and led the famous Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band, which entertained servicemen and performed live and on radio. Following Miller’s disappearance, two more of his albums topped the record charts in 1945 and 1946, which might have been the end of the story, but obviously is not.
The history of the Glenn Miller Orchestra reads almost like a movie script, which is fitting, as the success in 1954 of The Glenn Miller Story starring Jimmy Stewart led to the formation of the current iteration, which is still the most sought after big band in the world. Today, the ensemble’s library includes all of the original charts from both the civilian band and the Army Air Force Band; many of the original Miller arrangements are performed in the 300 concerts the orchestra annually plays around the globe. But does this history indicate the the orchestra’s show will be a dated re-creation of past popular music that is no longer relevant today? Of course, the answer to that question is a resounding “No!”
The music of the Glenn Miller Orchestra demonstrates the difference between dated and timeless. Modern selections are integrated into a performance, but that does not explain the show’s classic enduring quality. Currently led by Nick Hilscher, who also performs as one of the group’s vocalists, the orchestra exemplifies the everlasting ability of artistic excellence to reach across boundaries of time and space to connect directly to the soul. Hilscher himself experienced that universal magic when he first heard the Glenn Miller Orchestra play, saying, “It hit me like a ton of bricks, knocked me out, and changed my life when I was eleven! It hit me at the deepest level a kid at that age could be hit.”
Experiencing the joy of the singular Glenn Miller sound that lives forever is a great way to celebrate the Christmas season. As this article is being written, a few tickets remain for this concert of holiday music and other songs performed in the classic Glenn Miller style; to reserve yours, contact DCCA at 937-547-0908 or [email protected]