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Renowned big band to appear on Mem Hall stage for HBPA concert

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – The “World Famous Glenn Miller Orchestra,” one of the most popular and sought-after big bands in the world for concert and swing dance engagements, will appear on Bethel College’s Memorial Hall stage as part of the Hesston-Bethel Performing Arts Series.

The performance will be Thursday, March 18, at 7:30 p.m., with special events beforehand.

The Glenn Miller Orchestra is named for Alton Glenn Miller, born in 1904 in Clarinda, Iowa, and raised in North Platte, Neb. One day, his father brought him a mandolin, which young Glenn promptly traded for a battered trombone that he played constantly. He entered the University of Colorado in 1923 but soon dropped out to pursue a career as a professional musician.

Miller remained in relative obscurity for the next 15 or so years as a trombonist and arranger. He toured with several orchestras, eventually landing a spot in Ben Pollack’s group (which then included Benny Goodman). Miller played and recorded with Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Gene Krupa, Eddie Condon and Coleman Hawkins, and also worked for radio studio conductors like Victor Young, Carl Fenton and Jacques Renard.

In 1934, Miller became musical director of the Dorsey Band and later went on to organize The Ray Noble Orchestra, which included such players as Charlie Spivak, Peewee Erwin, Bud Freeman, Johnny Mince, George Van Eps and Delmar Kaplan, among others.

Miller’s first big band under his own name failed. He was 34 before his revamped orchestra – with its signature reed sound of clarinet and saxophones, and which would later include such musicians as Tex Beneke, Marion Hutton, Ray Eberle, Paul Tanner, Johnny Best, Hal McIntyre and Al Klinck – finally hit it big. From 1939-42, the Glenn Miller Orchestra broke attendance records up and down the East Coast and racked up eight million-selling records and 23 chart-toppers, including “Tuxedo Junction,” “In the Mood,” “Pennsylvania 6-5000,” “Song of the Volga Boatmen” and “Chattanooga Choo-Choo.”

In 1942, well past draft age and at the height of his professional success, Miller wangled a captain’s commission in the Army Air Force, where he formed a service band that played for the troops in Europe and made radio broadcasts. On Dec. 15, 1944, Miller boarded a plane in England for a flight over the English Channel to France, where he planned to join up with his service band to play for the soldiers who had just liberated Paris. The plane never arrived at its destination, and no trace of crew, passengers or aircraft was ever found.

After Miller’s death, his music lived on in a series of so-called ghost bands. It remains popular to this day with fans of big-band music. Miller received a posthumous Lifetime Achievement Grammy® Award in 2003.

The current incarnation of the Glenn Miller Orchestra was formed in 1956 and has been touring consistently since, playing about 300 dates a year, with trombonist Larry O’Brien as musical director. The rest of the current band personnel are: vocalists Julia Rich and Brian Hemstock; saxophones, Kevin Sheehan (lead alto), Jason Mathias (alto 2), Scott Van Domelen (tenor 1), Damian Sanchez (tenor 2) and Ian O’Beirne (baritone); trumpets, Ashley Hall (lead), Steve Walters (split lead), Jeff Uban (third/jazz) and Gary Lamb; trombones, George Reinert III (lead), Jaime Parker, Josh Rarick and Jason Bennett (bass); piano, Ron Mills; drums, Brent Marquez; and bass, Nick Krolak.

In addition to the concert, Hesston-Bethel Performing Arts invites area high school band directors and musicians to arrive early for the orchestra’s sound check and a rap session with the conductor and musicians before the concert. James Pisano, director of jazz studies at Bethel College, also invites those interested to attend an open rehearsal of Bethel College Jazz Ensemble I that same day, March 18, 4-6 p.m. in Krehbiel Auditorium.

Prices for single tickets for the Glenn Miller Orchestra’s appearance at Bethel College range from $14 to $17 depending on seating section with discounts available to students and senior citizens. Remaining concerts in the 2009-10 series are Chatham Baroque (Sunday, April 18) and the Lawrence Children’s Choir (Sunday, June 6). For more information or to purchase tickets, call 620-327-8158 (Hesston College) or 316-284-5205 (Bethel College) or e-mail, or purchase tickets online at

This program is presented in part by the Kansas Arts Commission, a state agency, and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency, which believes a great nation deserves great art, and is supported by Mid-America Arts Alliance with generous underwriting by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Kansas Arts Commission and foundations, corporations and individuals throughout Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas.

The Hesston-Bethel Performing Arts series started in 1982 as Hesston Performing Arts (HPA) with funding and planning provided by Hesston College and the Hesston community. In 1998, HPA planners launched a partnership with Bethel College, North Newton, and the series name changed to Hesston-Bethel Performing Arts. Hesston College and Bethel College host five performances by world-renowned or regionally acclaimed artists each year.

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