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May 30, 1995

I have been pleasantly surprised by the number of readers who tell me they too are big fans of Glenn Miller music. I knew others were out there, but I just wasn't sure how many. My occasional references to music in the Miller mood have brought several of you "out of the closet," so to speak. Maybe we should get together and start a local chapter of the Glenn Miller Birthplace Society. There really is such a group.

My across-the-street neighbor, Myrna Stoops, loaned me a copy of a magazine called "Dancing USA," and it contains several pages of news about ballroom dancing and big band style music from all over the country. Myrna and husband Ernie are members of a dance club in Stillwater which meets regularly to enjoy an evening of waltzing, jitterbugging, fox trots, tangos and other great styles. They even do some polkas and folk dancing, I believe. Couples and singles of all ages belong. One of the members is a lady in her 80s who dances competitively. Her biggest challenger for honors is another really neat lady, Nettie Brorsen of Edmond, formerly of Perry. Nettie has some trophies that attest to her grace and skill on the dance floor.

Anyway, Myrna's magazine contains information about the "Glenn Miller Birthplace Society" which is based in Clarinda, Iowa, where the maestro was born 91 years ago last month. That was the first I had heard about the organization. Then I received a copy of "Wax Words," a bi-monthly newsletter to which I subscribe, and it had even more details about this society. Clarinda is preparing for the 19th annual Glenn Miller Festival June 8-11. It is an international event drawing fans from around the world to remember Miller and his music. Hundreds, maybe thousands, attended last year. According to my atlas, Clarinda has a population of 5,240, or about the same as Perry's.

Headlining this year's events will be the world famous Glenn Miller orchestra directed by Larry O'Brien, the U.S. Air Force Air Mobility Command Band of Mid-America, the Boulevard Big Band from Kansas City, the Hot Tomatoes Dance Orchestra from Golden, Colo., Toshio Mori and the Blue Coats from Tokyo, the Glenn Miller Birthplace Society Big Band, and the Swingtones from Omaha, Neb. Other events will include tours, lectures, stage shows, films and a panel discussion with original members of the civilian and Air Force Glenn Miller bands. This is rated as one of the "top 100 festivals" in North America.

Though I am devoted to the Miller style in particular and Big Bands in general, I had never heard of this organization. If this is of interest to you, contact Wilda Martin, c/o the Glenn Miller Birthplace Society, P.O. Box 61-W Clarinda, Iowa 51632, or call 712-542-2461. My inquiry already is in the mail.

Most of you know that Major Glenn Miller was lost while flying across the English Channel in December 1944. He was 40 years old. His music has endured.

Let me clear up something lest someone gets the wrong idea about why I like this kind of music. I am not now, nor have I ever been, any kind of dancer. I found this out years ago during sock hops in the old Perry high school gym, and any of the young ladies who were in the class of '41 will attest to that. So will my long-suffering wife. My pleasure comes from just listening to the music, having long ago concluded that there is no rhythm in my bones and therefore no point in pretending that I can dance.

But the style of the music is still marvelous to me. It is, for the most part, REAL music, the kind that is meant to be hummed, whistled or simply heard, unlike most of the current popular songs. Even though virtually all of the great bands from "my era" are gone, a few new ones like Harry Connick Jr. have come along to continue the beat and keep the batons waving.

Another indication of the broad popular interest in this kind of entertainment was the 90-minute special, "Glenn Miller's Greatest Hits," followed by another one on the Tommy Dorsey band, offered by Oklahoma Public Broadcasting Stations a few nights ago. They were big hits. Hundreds of VCRs recorded the shows. Mine was one of them. And just this month, RCA Victor has released a brand-new two-disc set of CDs featuring Miller's civilian band, the one that took him to such great heights of popularity before World War II. Look for the set in your favorite record shop.

It's reassuring to know that so many others share this enjoyment and experience the same kind of pleasure when they hear those dulcet tones, whether they be hot or mellow, swinging or sentimental. I have a feeling they'll stand the test of time for a few more years.