Glenn Miller in content and context

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LEGEND of the Big Band Era

The concert at the PICC Hall on July 2 of the “Legendary Glenn Miller Orchestra” was remarkable for both content and context.

The content was, of course, what has been called the Big Band sound, propagated in the late ’30s and early ’40s by Miller and others like Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Woody Herman, Artie Shaw, Count Basie and Duke Ellington.

Miller made a special contribution, what he called in the biographical movie starring James Stewart “the sound,” which he finally found to his satisfaction when he gave the melody to the soothing clarinets rather than the brash trumpets.

The context was that brave time in human history during which their music flourished.  The publicity spoke of remembering World War II.  But one must go beyond such labels for its deeper significance.  It was not just another hegemonic war (although that aspect could not be avoided) but a titanic struggle against so much that was evil—Nazism, Fascism, militarism.

The generation that fought and won that epic battle was later called the Greatest Generation, and the Big Band sound was the music that accompanied it to the field of combat.

The World War II generation is said to number only three percent of this country’s population today, but the music evidently had its attractions for later generations, to judge by the multi-generational audience that filled the PICC Hall. They applauded the numbers they knew, singing along to familiar songs, including an 86-year-old lady who sang from the beginning of the concert.

Room was made on the sides of the stage for those who wanted to dance. At first there was a couple doing the Boogie and then a woman dancing alone. But it was not very easy getting there from the seats, and after a while the dancing stopped.

The orchestra was generous in offering a solid evening of music, two halves of about an hour and a quarter each, preceded by an hour-long performance by our own very good singer Arthur Manuntag.  He, knowingly or not, harked back to World War II when he did “You’ll Never Know,” the very first song hit to come to liberated Manila in 1945.

Three pretty young girls called the Swing Kittens did the songs of the Andrews Sisters, the WWII reminder being “The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” of Company B. Seeing their smart uniforms, one could envision a whole youthful generation marching off in the cause of freedom.

Also reminiscent of the war years was American Patrol and the St. Louis Blues March, done by Miller when he was drafted into the US Air Force.

Not all the selections were from that era.  There was “What a Day This Has Been” from “Brigadoon,” many years after the war. On the other hand, one missed the Miller standard “The Little Brown Jug.”

There was a very brief version of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” which, if it were a food item, would have been labeled a tasting portion.

Perennial favorite “Stardust” was played, like everything else, beautifully, but the arrangement omitted the nostalgic introduction.

“Perfidia” took one back to prewar Manila, where even those who spoke no Spanish could understand it.

The most applauded piece was the lively “In The Mood,” which climaxed the first part, and reminded one of Manila’s street mockery. In 1945, the chorus was furnished the words “GI Joe, you wanna pam-pam?” repeated four times.

Also reminiscent of Manila street mockery was the Swing Kittens’ “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen,” which in prewar Manila was given Tagalog words, “Anong Ganda Mo?  Mukha Kang Kabayo.”  Nothing escaped Manila’s street mockery.

“Tuxedo Junction” was almost hypnotic with its repeated first bars periodically punctuated by brilliant trumpet-playing.

For the rest, one sat back and let the Glenn Miller sound, with the assistance of two soloists, male and female, engulf one in the old favorites—“A String of Pearls,” “At Last,” “Pennsylvania 6-5000,” “Chatanooga Choo-Choo”—which for a certain generation will forever be waiting on Track 29, with the station clock stopped at a quarter to four.

The last number on the regular program was the signature song par excellence “Moonlight Serenade,” the epitome of the Miller sound that would linger long and dreamily in the afterglow of memory.

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