12 Jun 2017
big band
Tuneful TravelTuneful Travel

Glenn Miller Orchestra brings Big Band Sound to Iowa

The 18 musicians in the Glenn Miller Orchestra hail from all over the US and tour 48 weeks of the year, but for a couple of days in June they entertained a spellbound audience in the town where the orchestra’s namesake spent his early years: Clarinda, Iowa (pop. 5,500). I attended the Saturday, June 10, 2017, performance of this world famous group, and the quality of the musicianship and the “Big Band” sound transported me to musical heaven for a blissful two hours.

This year marked the 42nd year of the Glenn Miller Festival, which is run by volunteers and funded by corporate and private donations. When I drove into town on an unusually hot, windy Saturday, I was immediately struck by the number of large trees shading the roads near downtown, and by the beautiful courthouse dominating the town square (Clarinda is the county seat of Page County, which borders the Iowa-Missouri line on its southern border). For a small town, I spotted numerous coffee houses and restaurants around the downtown area.

The Glenn Miller Orchestra performed in the city’s high school auditorium, and although I came in a few minutes late I was able to find a good seat in the center of the last row. The orchestra consisted of 4 trumpets, 4 trombones, 5 saxes/clarinets, drumset, double bass, and piano. The director and male vocalist, Nick Hilscher, was very personable and an excellent singer.

Nick Hilscher – Band Director / Male Vocalist (photo copyright glennmillerorchestra.com)

The orchestra performed many familiar jazz standards, including String of Pearls, Pennsylvania 6-5000, Satin Doll, One Dozen Roses (arranged by Billy May), Chattanooga Choo Choo, and Jingle Bells. Lesser known but equally enjoyable tunes included Jersey Bounce, Blue Champagne, and Jimmy’s Missing Today, written by a Canadian composer about a WWII pilot who was missing in action. One of my favorites of the night was Baby Mine (music by Frank Churchill, lyrics by Ned Washington) from the 1941 movie Dumbo. Although the melody is simple, the song was quite beautifully sung by Nick Hilscher.

The Glenn Miller Orchestra’s fantastic brass section. Trumpets (top row): Steve Walters, Ashley Hall, Brad Black, Joe Young IV. Trombones: Michael DeSousa, George Reinert III, Brendan Lanighan, Jason Bennett


Reeds: Brian Lang, Carl Schultz, Kevin Sheehan, Jarod Kaszynski, Eric Stabnau; Drums: Brian Ellerman; Bass: Parker Murphy; Out of picture Piano: Ron Mills. Vocalist Maria Shafer

My video recording of Anitra’s Dance, arranged by Maxwell Davis, demonstrates the technical skills and suburb sound of the instrumental soloists.

The orchestra’s female vocalist, Maria Shafer, performed alone and with the “Moonlight Serenaders” which included three of the musicians. Her rendition of When Your Lover Has Gone, arranged by Nelson Riddle, showcased her vocal abilities and also featured baritone saxophone player Brian Lang on bass clarinet.

Maria Shafer, Female Vocalist (photo copyright glennmillerorchestra.com)


The Moonlight Serenaders: Kevin Sheehan, Maria Shafer, Nick Hilscher, Michael DeSousa, Brian Lang

Mr. Hilscher dedicated the tune American Patrol to all the veterans in the audience.

The orchestra concluded its performance with its signature piece, Moonlight Serenade, and after a standing ovation treated the audience to an encore of Dippermouth Blues. I believe many of the audience felt as I did in wishing the music could continue for several more hours!

To read about the Glenn Miller Orchestra, check out their website which has musician profiles, photos, videos, and the group’s tour schedule.  I just saw that the orchestra will be performing an hour away from my home on July 10 in Coralville, Iowa (next to Iowa City)—I hope to be able to listen to these world famous musicians again soon!

Next year’s festival will be held on June 7-10, 2018. Consult the festival website for more information as it is updated. You may also email gmbs@glennmiller.org, phone 712-542-2461, or write to 122 W. Clark Street, PO Box 61, Clarinda, IA 51632.

American flags line the entrance to the Glenn Miller Festival

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