LUMBERTON — It was 1944, during World War II, when big band music legend Glenn Miller disappeared while flying his plane over the English Channel. It may have been the last the world ever saw of the popular swing era composer, but thanks to the continuing popularity of his band The Glenn Miller Orchestra, it wouldn’t be the last that audiences ever heard of him.
On Friday at 7 p.m., The Glenn Miller Orchestra will return for another nostalgia laced performance at the Carolina Civic Center, that Richard Sceiford, the venue’s executive director, believes will have audience members dancing in their seats.
“That show sold out about a week in advance the last time they performed here in April,” Sceiford said. “It is just amazing to hear the best of America’s big band music performed live by the group that carries on the legacy. As a special bonus you get to see it in a historic theater setting. Actually, I believe the Civic Center first opened in 1928, just 10 years before the original Glenn Miller Orchestra formed. ”
Though the orchestra, which was formed in 1938, no longer features any of the original line up, it is the only orchestra of its kind given the blessing of the Miller estate and allowed to use the Glenn Miller Orchestra name.
The group, which performs all of the original music created by the late Glenn Miller, consists of five saxophone players, four trumpeters, four trombonists and three rhythm musicians, as well as two vocalists, one of whom is Nick Hilscher.
Hilscher took over as music director and lead vocalist in January 2012.
“It is a pretty energetic show. It has really fun songs that really draw the audience in,” said Hilscher, a native of Atlanta. “… The music has a complexity to it, certainly. It is grounded in rhythm, melody and harmony. A lot of the music written back then was written for Broadway musicals, by many of the greats. It certainly follows a pattern, and having a basic knowledge of that helps. The musician needs to, in a sense, master his instrument and read music very well.”
The orchestra performs all of Miller’s original hits, including “In the Digital Mood,” “In the Christmas Mood,” “Moonlight Serenade,” and possibly his most famous composition, “Chattanooga Choo Choo.”
“They are such amazing musicians,” Sceiford said. “While they are obviously popular with the older set, there are young musicians who come from all over the state to see them because these are the only people who are allowed to be called the Glenn Miller Orchestra. The quality is obviously the best. There are a lot of people who attend to hear big band jazz at its highest quality.”
For Hilscher, who has been an avid fan of big band music for decades, the pursuit of quality is a matter of paying respect to the men who came before them.
“Our art is the art of recreation, in a way,” Hilscher said. “Of course we don’t have the same personnel that Glenn’s band had, so it is never going to sound exactly like Glenn’s band, but it is pretty close and we do try to stay as close to that style as possible. Still, it always takes on a life of its own.”