Glenn Miller Orchestra spans the generations

The Glenn Miller Orchestra will perform at the Shoalhaven Entertainment Centre on Sunday.
The Glenn Miller Orchestra will perform at the Shoalhaven Entertainment Centre on Sunday.

Anniversaries and milestones are big business in the music biz. A 50th anniversary tour for The Rolling Stones netted the band $87 million from 18 huge concerts around the world in 2012 and 2013; the 20th anniversary of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain's suicide in April led to an outpouring of grief and sadness from fans; while this year marks the 50th anniversary of The Beatles' first tour to Australia, and will be remembered with a glut of tribute concerts around the country.

Spare a thought, then, for a band that has endured a staggering 77 years.

The Glenn Miller Orchestra was originally formed in 1938, by Iowa-born musician Alton Glenn Miller. A popular and accomplished big-band leader, Miller and his orchestra were one of the most prolific and well-known bands of the day, recording such enduring classics as Chattanooga Choo-Choo, In The Mood and Moonlight Serenade in an enviable run of form before tragedy struck - while flying from London to Paris to entertain troops in December 1944, Miller's plane disappeared and was never found.

The band regrouped under Miller's name in 1956.

"We play the original music arrangements for the original Glenn Miller Orchestra, playing them the way they were intended to play," said Rick Gerber, band leader for one of several incarnations of The Glenn Miller Orchestra currently performing around the world, and the one that will be touring Australia this month.

"We don't modernise the band. There are no amplified guitars, no hammering drums like a rock band. When people come to see us, it might be the first time they hear these songs live, we want them to experience feeling their favourite old records come to life."

Gerber said while band members have come and gone, the legacy and history of The Glenn Miller Orchestra remains constant - even down to the smallest details.

"The band has taken great effort to recreate even parts that were improvised and ad-libbed in the recordings. It was a one-time thing in studio, it was improvised, but fans wanted to hear it the way it was recorded," Gerber said.

"A lot of these famous songs, we play them and get a lot of comments about how accurate and close to the records they sound. That's what it's all about, being true to the originals."

With a full band, including five saxophones, four trumpets and four trombones, the orchestra play a string of hits from the 1930s and 1940s. The band may well be one of the oldest continuing groups in the world today, and Gerber puts it down to new generations discovering and connecting with music older even than their grandparents or great-grandparents.

"If you go to any university in the world, young people are studying and recreating the music of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven from centuries ago. New generations discover classical music, and like any art form, that's what keeps the music alive. If music was a one-generation thing, all popular music would die."


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