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IS IT THE SOUND, OR WAS IT THE SONG?

The lights soften, the mood settles. An audience waits for that first moment of sound. The Big Band is poised, relaxed, but with eyes anxious for the lead. Then, as if giving body to an echo, the murmured notes of 'Moonlight Serenade'.... and the night, it seems, is suddenly full and timeless.

There are those who watch and listen who tap a shy finger to the melodies, others who follow with a silent foot-beat, still others who murmur softly through the lyrics, and those who simply permit a fleeting smile. But common to all are memories.

Music evokes the memory - of a person, time, event, arrival, departure - and the personal emotion aroused. And strangely in such a diverse mixture as the human race, few escape it. Who would deny the song that recalls the ecstasy of first love, the haunting melody that so easily and instantly conjures the images of place, the simple lyric that said it all when mere words always failed? And who, in the vast cacophony of life, could fail to take flight on the composer's magic carpet of sound?

Music also mirrors the measures of history, like some giant score to accompany the story of man, and in the sweep of those events there have been times when composers and musicians have seemed to be born to the occasion - none more so, of course, than the inimitable Glenn Miller who not only felt instinctively for the mood of the time but almost single-handed created the spirit with which we faced it.

Hardly surprising therefore, that when today's Big Band recreates the sounds of the era that memories are stirred. Sometimes it is a single melody that brings the drama into vivid focus. Sometimes it is the song itself with a lyric that 'said' then what the heart could not find words to express - and still says as clearly as ever half-a-century later.

The memories brought to life span almost all the emotions of those times: comradeship, doubt, fear, loss and, most significantly, the hope in love. And all such recollections seem inevitably with those intensely personal memories rarely shared in the everyday world but readily told again (and often to perfect strangers!) on the night of the Big Band concert.

I set to pondering recently that, as the generation of the Miller era passes on, we might well be left with a silent gap, a void into which the younger people of today will have nothing of their memories to invest; that will leave the Big Band sound and the classic melodies and lyrics of another age little more than the trivia of nostalgia.

No more shy finger-tapping, no silent foot-beat, no murmured words, no gentle smile... Classics perhaps, but have they had their day at the heart of things?

I need have had no such fears. At the close of a NRO concert in my part of the world the audience chatted excitedly as ever in their huddles of common interest in the theatre foyer - old friendships renewed, new encounters confirmed, past days recalled, firm promises made to meet again at the next event.

And soon there were empty night-filled streets, save for one where, just ahead of me, a young man and his girl hugged each other in their slow stroll home, humming together, the unmistakable refrain from 'At Last'.

Ah, yes, the beginning of memories...

by Brian Parvin

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