Big Band, Big Feeling

The Stardust Big Band

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Photography by Mara Kuhn and courtesy of The Stardust Big Band

The music of the big band era, starting in the 1920s through the 1950s, has never really gone away — at least, not from Hot Springs, thanks to the Stardust Big Band, made up of 17 members who continue to bring people together through their music.

Consisting of keyboards, bass and drums, four trumpets, four trombones, five saxophones and one vocalist, Stardust performs once a month at the Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa and has traveled extensively in Arkansas to perform at numerous venues.

“Big band is unique in that all the instruments have a piece of music to read,” said Shirley Chauvin, Stardust’s vocalist. “We play a lot of big band arrangements from the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s, and we also play a lot of arrangements from the more contemporary arrangers. It’s dance music — big band dance music.”scene2

Stardust has been the musical entertainment on New Year’s Eve in the Crystal Ballroom at the Arlington Hotel for 30 years. This year, a five-course dinner will be served at 6:30 p.m. and the band will play from 8:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Dec. 31. Admission is $10 or free for students K-12.

“It’s basically a volunteer situation — none of us are on a salary. Even our director, Bill Halbrook, puts a great deal of time and effort into not only directing the band, but making out the tune lists and making sure the parts are right,” said Chauvin. “It’s almost a full time job. He’s really excellent.”

Halbrook is a drummer and has his own rock ‘n’ roll group called Sweet Mother.

A member of the band since 1994, Chauvin is a professional musician and has been working with big bands for her entire career and says she is extremely proud to be a member of Stardust.

Chauvin is from Texas originally and has done concert work in Texas and Oklahoma and traveled with other big bands before her children started school, at which time she had to cease traveling and stay home.

scene3The band was established in 1982 by a group of retired professional musicians and band directors, primarily for their own entertainment. Members of the group were just going into retirement from long careers and still enjoyed music and their ability to make music, so they congregated in Hot Springs and put Stardust together under the direction of Harvey Haley.

“Maybe a year after they all got together, they convinced Harvey Haley to take over the band and give them some guidance. He did so, and after he retired he devoted more time to putting the band in better shape to perform publicly,” Chauvin said.

As their collective abilities increased, the band began to offer public performances.

“We hosted a Halloween party and one mother brought her 2-and-a-half year old and he was out there dancing,” Chauvin recalled. “I have a video where he comes out while I’m singing and you can see him come on to the floor from the side and he’s got his little arms out and he’s dancing. We encourage people to bring their families; it’s a family thing.”

The band does more than just perform; they also mentor students. Chauvin said ten of the 17 members are band directors and sometimes one of the group members will bring an outstanding student to sit in with the section of the instrument he or she plays and read the music along with the band.

“They get a taste of it to know what it feels like, so it encourages the student to practice and get the feel of sitting in with these professional musicians,” she said.

Stardust will perform at 7 p.m. Feb. 12 at the Woodlands Auditorium in Hot Springs Village as part of a fundraiser for the Hot Springs Village Kiwanis.

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