by Jessica Warzeniak
photo by Alexis Ann
On Monday, September 28th, the Wolf Den in Mohegan Sun filled with the swinging sounds of the Glenn Hansen Orchestra. The concert is part of Mohegan Sun’s “Forever Young Mondays” which includes a variety of free gifts, mid-day performances, shopping and two-for-one buffets for guests sixty years of age or older.
In an exclusive interview before the concert, the Resident spoke with Glenn Hansen and his wife Margaret about the beginnings of the Glenn Hansen Orchestra.
Glenn, who was named after the great Glenn Miller, grew up in a house filled with music. “My father played for the Benny Goodman Orchestra. The whole beginning of my life was all involved in music. Gene Cooper was my father’s best friend out of the Orchestra and we used to go down and visit him. And he’s the reason why I took up the drums. Everybody said, ‘Well, aren’t you going to play trumpet like your dad?’ Of course my dad supported what I wanted to do, so I started playing the drums. I studied the drums for 10 years with Walter Damas, a teacher in New London. Then I passed the audition to get into the Hartt College of Music. I studied with Al Lepac there.”
The Plane Crash
Glenn became the youngest pilot in the State of Connecticut when he earned his pilot’s license at the tender age of 15. “Flying was one of my dad’s hobbies and pleasures in his life. And most of the things my dad did, I ended up doing too,” he laughed.
Margaret tells us, “Every year for his birthday, his father would give him a flying lesson when he was a child. He ended up getting his pilot’s license extremely early because he had been educated so young.”
After college, Glenn used his experience to fly medivac helicopters for the Army during Vietnam.
But in 2003, Glenn sustained a traumatic brain injury when his plane crashed coming in on a landing at Westerly Airport. He navigated the plane to land in a bunch of trees, but they couldn’t hold the weight of the plane. The limbs broke and hit Glenn in the head, causing the traumatic brain injury.
With Margaret at his side, Glenn turned to music as therapy. She said, “I had previously worked for the Department of Mental Health in a non-profit capacity and had been trained up at Gaylord. I knew that part of the training is to keep the brain active. Music is a language and an art so it works on both the right and the left side…. After 18 months the brain locks up. So I was on a deadline as far as getting him maximized.”
“Music has been my life so it’s been a pleasure to be able to turn that direction,” said Glenn. “Most people have to use machines, and stuff like that, that are mundane. At least I get the chance to do something exciting and it is therapy.”
“The doctors all said that it is a good thing that I did use music as therapy because that traumatic brain injury could have been devastating. I gained a lot of function back. I’m not back to full function, but I’ve gotten a lot back.”
Glenn learned to play more instruments as he gained function. With his new skills, the pair wanted to do something worthwhile. “We wanted to build a swing band in memory of his father. We submitted our 501 because we started a mentoring group with children,” said Margaret. “This way Glenn was constantly working his brain in order to make sure that the injuries he sustained were not permanent.”
“Out of the plane crash and all the training he previously had as a child, came the Glenn Hansen Orchestra,” she said. “And it just kept growing and growing and growing.”
Glenn, a certified public school teacher for 24 years before his retirement, said, “I teach kids and I wanted an avenue for kids to be able to perform. I put together a band so they could take the skills they were learning and actually put them to use. That was the foundation of the band. The basic premise was to give kids the opportunity to play.”
The orchestra, which specializes in swing, jazz, and “Big Band,” includes 15 members and is currently mentoring 10 students from Southeastern Connecticut.
“There are two parts of the Glenn Hansen Orchestra,” said Margaret. One part entertainment and one part mentoring. The students play mostly for the elderly. “Glenn’s mother passed away and she was at Windham Falls. So we’ve been doing a concert at Windham Falls for the last five years on New Year’s Eve in her memory. We go to the retirement homes and some senior centers and the churches – the kids go there on a regular basis.”
“Like Ralph Waldo Emerson said, ‘To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.’ It’s not about the money. It’s really about trying to make sure we have something to leave as a legacy. That we have taken these kids to a different level of understanding is the world.”
The band is managed by Moses Cleveland, booking agent. “If I see a good product I go after it,” said Moses. “And Glenn has quite a product.”
“I hounded Moses for four months. I never approached any other agent. I always wanted him,” said Margaret. “His friend, Cindy, has been my dog groomer for 20 years. She said, ‘Oh, my friend does that.’ I believe that God sends people to you in a certain way.”
“One last question for you Glenn before you go on stage, what do you like best about what you do?”
“I love the reaction of the audience,” said Glenn. “I like to give to people and when I see the joy in their faces, I just know that my father is smiling.”