For the past several years, I have listened to the Bill Miller program from 6 to 10 a.m. Sunday mornings on KAYS radio, and heard him promote the Glenn Miller Festival in June at Clarinda, Iowa, Glenn Miller's birthplace.
This year, instead of going to the Evergreen Jazz Festival at Evergreen, Colo., in July, I decided to try to get to the 35th annual Glenn Miller Festival, for a late spring vacation, possibly just once in a lifetime.
I pulled the festival information off its website, along with a ticket order form in May, and selected possible festival events. I decided to go, late in May, and mailed a check for $144 to the society for nine events, varying in price from $5 to $22, for June 11 and 12.
The society called me in early June to tell me that I had paid for two events occurring at the same time on Saturday, so I switched one event to Thursday night, not knowing if I could get to it.
I pulled the society's accommodation list and selected the Country Inn Motel in Shenandoah, 20 miles west of Clarinda at a price of $48.72 per night, only knowing about the motel from the Internet.
I left Hays at 9:15 a.m. on Thursday morning, drove east to Topeka, and took U.S. Highway 75 north across eastern Nebraska, up to Iowa Highway 2, over to Shenandoah -- about a six hour drive, arriving at 3:30 p.m.
I checked into the motel, had dinner and headed for Clarinda, to try to make the 8 p.m. event. In Clarinda, I located the high school, picked up my tickets, and found a chair seat in the air conditioned gymnasium.
A large portable stage was before me, and at 8 p.m, a Japanese interpreter introduced the Tamana Girls High School Band from Tamana, Japan, a sister city of Clarinda -- their 10th appearance in the past 35 years.
Forty-three sophomore, junior and senior student musicians, all dressed in white blouses with black neckpieces, plaid skirts, black stockings and shoes started their performance by playing our American national anthem, as we all stood at attention -- how strange, I thought, to hear this, when 69 years ago, we were arch enemies after Pearl Harbor.
Their Japanese director demanded musical excellence and got it from very talented musicians. In their second half, they returned wearing T-shirts, jeans and sneakers, and concluded with Glenn Miller's "Moonlight Serenade."
At 9:30 p.m., I drove west to Shenandoah, encountering a huge deer, coming from the left side of the road, and after hitting my brakes and missing it, I hoped that this was only a single deer. It was.
After breakfast Friday morning, I arrived in Clarinda at 9 a.m., invested in a 2010 society new membership for a reduced charge of $15, pinned a membership badge to my shirt and attended the society business meeting.
Several members expressed concern about the need to upgrade the bylaws and follow board member elections. The 2009 membership statistics recorded 1,247 U.S. members and 136 foreign and Japanese members -- there is a Japan society branch.
At 10 a.m., I went to the auditorium to listen to the Ballyhoo Foxtrot Orchestra from Des Moines, Iowa. Eight musicians played music from the early 1900s, a time when trombonist Glenn Miller gained experience that would greatly influence his later music.
After lunch provide by the local Lutheran Church, I attended a 2 p.m. panel of Miller historians, including Steve Miller, Glenn's Son, two archivists from the official University of Colorado Miller archives, a radio personality and the widow of one of the Modernaires.
A 20-minute presentation outlined the true and highly investigated review of Maj. Miller's disappearance. In summary. Miller, on Dec. 14, 1944, was at the wrong place (English airfield), on the wrong airplane (Norseman C-64, all metal plane, with fixed landing gear), in bad weather, with the wrong substitute pilot, and the plane apparently crashed into the English Channel, never to be seen again.
At 4:15 p.m., I moved into the gymnasium to listen to Hunter Fuerste and his American Vintage Orchestra from Dubuque, Iowa. I met and learned that Fuerste is a practicing ophthalmologist and his hobby is arranging for and conducting his 13-piece swing orchestra.
I drove over to Glenn Miller's birthplace home, and also visited the new museum west of his birthplace house, built with grants and donations from all over the world since 2008. A bronze statute graces the atrium, with a 78 rpm GM Bluebird record/sheet music collection on display.
After dinner, I returned to the gymnasium at 8 p.m. to be entertained by the 14-piece Noteables the U.S. Air Force Jazz Ensemble from Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, with an extensive musical repertoire honoring our country and veterans.
On my drive back to Shenandoah, I saw a small deer cross in front of a car in front of me, its brakes suddenly engaged -- another miss. There was more rain during the night.
On Saturday, I arrived in Clarinda in time for the 35th anniversary parade around the town square, with the bands/orchestras playing on flatbed trailers. At 10:15 a.m., the stage show was presented in the gym, with presentation of life members, 2010 scholarship winners, and the 16-member Glenn Miller Birthplace Society Band, featuring musicians from Iowa, Illinois, the Netherlands, Minnesota, Wisconsin and England, recreating a Chesterfield GM radio program with an original script. Lunch was prepared by the Southwest Iowa Humane society.
Moving over to the auditorium at 1:30 p.m.. The 13 Swing Kids, with kids from age 9 to 18, from Romanshom, Switzerland, performed. Their director is probably Japanese, and speaks broken English, but gets great swing from these award-winning very talented young musicians.
At 3:15 p.m., C.F. Alan Cass from the University of Colorado presented a presentation of Glenn Miller over his 40-year life.
Finally, 4:30 p.m. arrived, and the seniors packed the gymnasium for the outstanding performance of the world famous Glenn Miller Orchestra, under the 22 year directorship of Larry O'Brien -- age 76.
I was sitting in the second row of the bleachers, when a man in a white coat, red shirt, white tie and black trousers and shoes sat down in front of me, pressed his back against my legs, and listened to the music. It was Larry O'Brien. He turned around and said, "These guys are pretty good." I could only say, "Yes, sir."
They played for two hours with many famous arrangements of Glenn Miller's 22 top hits from the past -- a great concert.
After dinner, I wrapped up my festival visit by returning to the auditorium to watch and listen to the three-time world champion old-time piano player Adam Swanson, 17, from Shenandoah, Iowa. He studies and performs with Johnny Maddox in the summertime in Durango, Colo.
No deer on the highway tonight.
The festival continued on Sunday from 10 a.m. to the final farewell picnic at 6:15 p.m. featuring an Evensong, but I packed up my new DVDs, CDs, festival shirts, and Glenn Miller book and headed back to Hays. It was a fabulous late spring vacation weekend.
Glenn Miller's success was developing a new band sound, playing clarinets in the upper register, with the sax section playing an octave below. Even though Miller's gone, too soon, his music lives on, hopefully forever.
P.S. -- The Glenn Miller Orchestra will be playing in McPherson and Manhattan later this year -- check their website.
Harry Watts, Hays, is a member of the Generations Advisory Group.