How Your Great-Grandma Rocked Out




Glenn Miller Orchestra

Benaroya Hall, Seattle

If your great-grandmother wanted to piss off her parents when she was a teenager, she might have slipped into her Keds, pulled on a flared skirt, and danced all night to the risqué sounds of Duke Ellington or Benny Goodman. If she were really into the hard stuff, maybe she would have swung with the Glenn Miller Orchestra, which we were doing here in Seattle this past Friday night… and grandma rocks hard.
It began with a moonlight serenade. God, I love this music! It was so joyous, celebratory, innocent, and contradictory to what was happening outside the venues it first played in. I suppose a decade weighed down by The Great Depression, followed by a World War II chaser, necessitated some cheering up. And so, starting in the late 1930s, the Glenn Miller Orchestra began that effort and has continuously brightened the spirits of audiences up to the present day.

While the begrudging grasp of time has denied us any remaining original members, this manifestation of the Glenn Miller Orchestra is part of a tradition that has carried on bearing its originator’s name for nearly eighty years. Erik Stabnau, the band’s present Music Director and a man with more hands than Vishnu, glides seamlessly through the many hats he gracefully wears. Playing a mean saxophone, singing in a clean and golden baritone, introducing the numbers, and offering a little backstory without turning the music into ancient history, Stabnau makes weaving his tapestry look easy.

The band itself is immaculate. With fourteen dedicated musicians seated behind the trademark stand fronts, these legendary songs are kept alive. The brass section bursts with an exuberant celebration, the drummer bounces the rhythm between the snare and high hat, and the woodwinds wail with a heightened vibrato that makes me miss my grandparents. Listening to these soothing sounds makes it easy to see why people often think life used to be simpler and better and it just made more sense back in the day. While I don’t subscribe to those theories, this music makes me wax nostalgic for times I never knew. The band is joined by vocalist Jenny Swoish, who initially came on pretty strong, verging on the forced, but ultimately backs her swaggering confidence with powerful vocals.

If you have either an appreciation for or a curiosity about the swing era, a living tradition is tuned to scratch that itch. Like Zoroastrian priests tending to the sacred flame of Yazd, the Glenn Miller Orchestra carries the torch of a beautiful moment in music, breathing fresh life into it today. Bravo to the Seattle Symphony for its diverse and diligently curated programming. If you haven’t checked out what they have going on at Benaroya Hall, I highly suggest looking at their calendar to see what’s waiting to draw you in.

For more information and show dates for the Glenn Miller Orchestra:

Seattle Symphony:

Add new comment