A Concert by the Glenn Miller Orchestra

Whilst there are a few things that the City of Melbourne could do better, there are some things that we have that are outstanding. One is the National Gallery which is a world class art museum (and the reason why we are fortunate to host so many superb international visiting exhibitions). The other is our first class Concert Hall where we were today..

Hamer Hall

We went there to see a concert given by the visiting Glenn Miller Orchestra. They played a superb selection of the songs made famous by its namesake – the 1940’s band leader, Glen Miller. 

I’ll give any of my nieces and nephews a prize if they can tell me anything about this famous musician. Judging by the age of the audience today, I suspect that it is unlikely that they will know anything of him and his band.

He was a famous big band musician, arranger, composer, and bandleader in the swing era of the late 1930’s and 1940’s. He was the best-selling recording artist from 1939 to 1943, leading one of the best known big bands. His notable recordings include “In the Mood”, “Moonlight Serenade”, “Pennsylvania 6-5000”, “Chattanooga Choo Choo”, “A String of Pearls”, “At Last”, “(I’ve Got a Gal In) Kalamazoo”, “American Patrol”, “Tuxedo Junction”, “Elmer’s Tune”, and “Little Brown Jug”. He died while he was traveling to entertain U.S. troops in France during World War II when his aircraft disappeared in bad weather over the English Channel. He was never found.

GMO Website Glenn Miller Orchestra

I guess that it easy to see his music as being old, but I have an observation that music in our western countries has changed over various decades to reflect societal issues of the day. Different styles of music all have a place at different times in our history.

For example, during WW1, popular music of the day initially called for young men to join up. Examples of popular songs included “We Don’t Want to Lose You, But We Think You Ought to Go”, “Now You’ve Got the Khaki On” or “Kitcheners’ Boys”. After a few months of war and rising numbers of deaths, the recruitment songs all but disappeared, and the 1915 “Greatest Hits” collection contained no recruitment songs at all. The music hall songs (the most common music venues of the day) that mentioned the war (about a third of the total number of songs that were produced) were more and more focused on dreams about the end of the war—for example, “When the Boys Come Home” and “Keep the Home Fires Burning”.

Then in the 1920’s, after the “Great War” there was an explosion of popular music and a new sense of freedom and new life. The new popularity of Jazz and the Charleston were a very important part of the culture of the 20’s. It gave people a new sense of fashion, such as hair styles, clothes, slang, and a more positive life.

The 1930’s were characterised by the Great Depression but were also a time of transition.  The Jazz of the 1920’s was still popular as was the emerging blues music.  The music was full of romance and smoothness. Swing music became popular from 1932- 1940. It was danceable, fun and lively – a perfect antidote to the hard times of the depression.

During WW2, popular music changed to.reflect the uncertainty and threat of the time. Songs such as those by Glen Miller described the need for love between those who were separated by war. Songs such as Vera Lynn’s ‘White Cliffs of Dover” focused hope – hope that the war would be over and end positively. 

The 1950’s was a new period of peace and modernism. This gave rise to a ‘pop’ culture in which songs invariably had a ‘catchy’ and ‘fun’ message. This was the first decade of Rock and Roll.

In the 1960’s we saw a rise of the protest movement and a development of societal conscience. Folk songs and protest songs such as Barry Maguire’s ‘On the Eve of Destruction’ are synonymous with this period.

Then in the 1970’s we saw a rise of continuing protest and individualism. This time saw the introduction of drugs, LSD and counter cultures with interests in novel religions such as Indian Swami’s and meditation. The Vietnam war was in full swing and many popular songs reflected this period in society. Every soldier in Vietnam, for example,  knew ‘We’ve Got to Get Out of This Place”. Progressive rock songs by groups such as Credence Clear Water Revival were consistent with increasing individual perspectives on life.

During the 1980’s we saw the growth of more liberal attitudes with regard to social and cultural issues, as well as higher overall support for classical liberal economic policies than generations of earlier decades. Techniical developments such as the Walkman and Compact Disks made music much more available. In the early 1990s, a rebellious form of alternative rock known as ‘grunge’ became popular with Australian youth who were by now considerably divorced from traditional values of respecting authority and personal responsibility . This was characterised by heavy drums, distorted guitars and intense, angst-filled lyrics.

Now in the 2000’s we seem to have a great diversity in popular music that includes Reggae, Bebop, Rock, and Rap – along with other styles of music that seem to be consistent with our multi faceted and multi cultural world.

I personally like Glenn Miller’s music. It has a great swing beat and is easy to listen to. It is melodic and mostly has a clear verse and chorus. These songs even have a natural ending. This is the music that was important in WW2. It kept up people’s hopes and these romantic songs were important for the millions men away at war and for their wives and sweethearts left at home. This is the music that my mother would have danced to at places like the Trocadero which I believe was located on the same site as the current Concert Hall. My mother was lucky that her very strict Methodist father would let her go to these dances. As a strict Baptist, my father was, at the time, unsure about the wisdom of this dancing but it was one of the activities that cheered up those at home who were struggling with the difficulties of living in a time of war.

By coincidence, the Westpac Museum at the State Theatre currently has an exhibition of bands and groups that have  supported the troops at war over time. One of the photos was this one that showed Australian troops in Vietnam watching a show at Luscombe Bowl at our base at Nui Dat. I could have been one of the men in this group listening to the good old Rock and Roll music of the day. I always find the music of that time very evocative in bringing back many memories of my time on active service in Vietnam.

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Bruce is a keen traveller and photographer. This web site describes his travel and family interests

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