By Heleigh Bostwick
Nearly 250 people gathered in the Champlain Valley Union High auditorium to listen—and jitterbug in the aisles—to the big band sounds of the Glenn Miller Orchestra last Friday.
“It was an incredible opportunity to bring this type of music to the students and to the community at large,” said CVU Band Director Andrew Miskavage. Miskavage organized the concert with the help of 25 of his students, who sold tickets, set up chairs, and provided food for the band.
It’s not the first world-class band that Miskavage, an instrumental music teacher at CVU for the past 25 years, has been able to bring to the school.
“About 15 years ago, I got a call asking if I would be interested in hosting the Maynard Ferguson Band,” Miskavage recalled. “I thought it was a hoax so I made a few calls to verify that it was legitimate.”
“A lot of big-name bands often look for smaller venues such as schools to play in between their larger gigs,” he explained. “If they don’t play they lose money, so they are open to venues like public schools.”
Through his contacts, Miskavage was able to bring the Maynard Ferguson band to CVU four or five times, but when Ferguson died, the band disbanded. He wondered how he could find another band of that caliber to play at CVU, and called a band manager he knew.
“Now, every so often I get a call about a band, but usually the dates don’t work out,” he said, adding that the last world-class band to play at CVU was the Count Basie Band about five or six years ago.
“It just so happens that this time it worked out,” he said, referring to the Glenn Miller Orchestra. “We had done some fundraising that wasn’t earmarked for anything else, so we were able to pay the deposit to book them.”
The band’s namesake, Glenn Miller, disappeared over the English Channel in 1944 when he was a member of the U.S. Army Air Force, but his second in command led the band through the rest of World War II, when it was called the Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band.
In 1956, Miller’s estate reformed the original band and the big band tradition has continued ever since, said Miskavage.
“The band has been performing 48 weeks a year on the road consistently since 1956,” said Nick Hilscher, band leader and musical director of the orchestra, who’s been singing vocals for the band since 1988.
“We have 17 musicians and whether we’re playing for a small or large crowd, we put in the same effort,” he said.
“Friday night was a lively audience and the crowd really showed their appreciation,” he recalled. “There were even a few older couples dancing in the aisles.”
Tony Hall, a drummer with the Onion River Jazz Band, and his wife Cyndy were one of those couples.
“We really appreciated the opportunity to dance to the famous Glenn Miller Band,” Tony Hall wrote in an email to the Observer.
“A few couples jitterbugging in the aisles added the perfect touch,” emailed Paul Mead, who attended the concert with his wife, Ann.
“On the whole, I’m really happy that the concert happened,” Miskavage said. “Many audience members were taken back to the ‘40s and ‘50s, and the student musicians in the audience were treated to a concert of rare quality in a lovely venue.”
Phil and Ann Mead concurred. “The Glenn Miller concert at CVU last Friday night was outstanding!” Phil Mead wrote. “Excellent musicianship, great showmanship, and the timeless arrangements of the Miller band made it a memorable evening.”