By Bill Robinson
LANCASTER — The greatest generation, those men and women who withstood The Great Depression and then won World War II, also had the greatest music.
Although members of that generation are slipping away from us, the music they loved will never die.
The World Famous Glenn Miller Orchestra proved that Tuesday night as it played to a nearly packed house at the newly renovated Lancaster Grand Theater.
The young age of some orchestra members – their great-grandparents probably were among Miller’s most ardent fans – is a testimony to the enduring quality of the great band leader/composer’s music.
This material is not easy to play, but the musicians in this legacy ensemble, both young and old, came to small-town Kentucky and showed they can play the master’s music as if they were directed by his unseen hand.
The orchestra leader and three of the players also sing, and for a few numbers they joined their female soloist, Julia Rich, to the crowd’s delight.
The music of the big-band era, especially Glenn Miller’s, exudes such energy, optimism and joy of living that neither the Depression nor WWII’s darkest days could quell.
The Japanese and Germans may have thought America was ripe for defeat in the early 1940s, but they should not have challenged a people who could produce a Glenn Miller and his music. The guys and gals who danced with abandon to “In the Mood” or slowly embraced to “Moonlight Serenade” changed the world when they went to work and off to war.
The Lancaster Grand, which closed its doors in 1966, has been reborn as a performing arts venue only 30 minutes from Richmond and Berea. Both Madison County towns were well represented at Tuesday night’s concert.
Although a few finishing touches, such as carpeting and an exterior sign, are yet to be installed, The Grand is both an elegant and intimate venue to enjoy an act like The Glenn Miller Orchestra. Where else can you be so close to the performers that you can see the expressions on their faces and perhaps even make eye contact?
There are no bad, or even distant, seats in the house, not even the balcony.
The restored Grand needed someone with talent and experience to make it a success, and fortunately it didn’t have to look very far to find the right person to bring in the crowds.
Garrard County native Debra Hoskins, formerly assistant director of the Norton Center for the Arts and then director of the EKU Center for the Arts, has put together a season that audiences could expect to find only in much larger cities.
If the size and enthusiasm of the midweek crowd that came out for the The Glenn Miller Orchestra is any indication, The Grand can expect a long and prosperous second life.
Both the theater and The Glenn Miller Orchestra are a lot alike in that regard.