Beaufort County's Stardust Orchestra do their part to preserve Big Band sound + video

eshaw@islandpacket.comJanuary 5, 2014 

Many members of the Stardust Orchestra are former professional musicians, trying to preserve the sounds of Big Band music.

STAFF PHOTO

  • IF YOU GO

    The orchestra is planning several free concerts that are open to the public.

  • 4-5:30 p.m. Jan. 12 at Bluffton United Methodist Church.

  • 6:30-8 p.m. Jan. 15 at the First Presbyterian Church on Hilton Head Island.

  • 4-6 p.m. Jan.18 at the Lord of Life Lutheran Church on Buckwalter Parkway.

  • March 7 at Magnolia Hall in Sun City to benefit the Sun City Lions Club. Vocalists of Penney Lynn Smith and the Sweetgrass Angels will also perform swing era and country music. The start time for this concert is still being finalized.

  • For more information about Stardust Orchestra, visit www.stardustorchestrahhi.com

Every Wednesday, the sounds of Frank Sinatra, Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw blast from a small room in Bluffton United Methodist Church. It's where Stardust Orchestra, an 18-piece swing band, practices for an upcoming concert.

The group of aging players, many of them former professional musicians, are hard at work trying to preserve Big Band music -- music that dominated from the '20s to the '40s but has since faced a decline in players and listeners.

"I was raised on Big Band music," said Stardust's director Dave McMullen, an 81-year-old saxophone and clarinet player. "It's a love for Big Band music that all these fellas have. We just love this music, and it's going away."

Founded in 2004, the orchestra plays mainly for charities and has raised more than $150,000 for local organizations. The band also does work with students at local schools, trying to spark an interest in younger generations for the American Songbook. Lately, however, Stardust has focused on concerts to "fill that void" for those who can recall days of packed dance halls and swinging concert venues, McMullen said.

"Our audiences are all the age of 50 and up. We're just hoping we can keep it going," he said. "To be honest, I don't think it will ever come back."

For a number of reasons, Big Band music began to decline in the mid-1940s. Talented vocalists used their popularity and went out on their own. It also became increasingly expensive to pay the 12 to 25 musicians that typically made up a Big Band.

"Today, music is all about the one, the star," said Allyn Purdue, Stardust's bass player. "Like Katy Perry or Lady Gaga. Everything goes to them, and it's not about those who help make them that star. Back then, it was about the band."

But all hope is not lost for the Big Band. Groups like the American Big Band Preservation Society are also working to save the music genre by archiving it, playing it and educating students.

"That's what we're all about," said ABBPS president Dan Gabel. "I don't think it will fade away."

Movies like "The Great Gatsby" and TV shows like "Mad Men" and "Boardwalk Empire" that feature Big Band music are luring in new audiences in their 20s, Gabel said.

"I certainly agree that the people that know this music best are a declining breed," said Rick Eckstein, Stardust's marketing manager. There are still people who play it, he said, mentioning Harry Connick Jr. and Michael Buble, who both have Big Bands behind them.

"The arrangements might morph into something more modern sounding, but to say that it's going to die, I don't think that's true."

Added Gabel, "It's not moldy figs and mothball music you hear on scratchy records. It's just good music. And anything good will last."


Video: Stardust Orchestra

Follow Erin Shaw at twitter.com/IPBG_ErinShaw.

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