Big band group shares talent at annual meeting
CAPE GIRARDEAU – Their music is unusual. Unique, in fact – songs of praise and worship backed up by big band sound.
“It’s pretty high energy,” says Denver Bierman, leader of Denver and the Mile High Orchestra.
The group brought their energetic performance to the annual meeting here Oct. 31. The ten-piece band featured trumpets, trombones, saxophones and a rhythm section reminiscent of band leaders of bygone eras.
“I don’t know how many times at the convention you’ve ever had a group on stage singing the blues,” Bierman told messengers as members donned sunglasses and delivered “Get Down With Jesus.”
The 29-year-old Bierman seems completely at home on center stage in his red suit, singing, playing trumpet and giving testimony of God’s goodness. But it was a journey to reach the point where he could use his talents for Christ’s kingdom.
“For many years of my life, I felt like my life didn’t count and I had no hope that it would,” Bierman said in an interview backstage with The Pathway. “God can take those unique qualities of who you are and use it to make a unique impact on people’s lives.”
His geographic name points to the west; Bierman actually grew up in Indiana in a Christian family. He said God became real to him at age 16 when a good friend died in a car accident.
He’d begun playing the trumpet in sixth grade and loved listening to Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and Harry Connick Jr., not for the vocals – for the horns.
“I loved the trumpet, I loved playing the horn,” Bierman said. Yet he was frustrated, believing his talent didn’t have a place in kingdom work. In college at age 20, he and some friends formed the Mile High Orchestra.
“I wanted to take my love of the Lord and arrange it in a style for big band. I found my voice in that.”
Big band Christian music didn’t exactly jump into the mainstream overnight. They started on an independent record label and gradually built up an audience. “Some of the opportunities happened for us because we worked hard and God made it happen.”
Denver and the guys have performed at major venues, including the 2002 and 2004 Olympic Games. They’ve shared the stage with a diverse cast of characters, from Guy Lombardo to Debby Boone to Carman and Jaci Valesquez. Bierman said their upbeat music with both a hint of nostalgia and contemporary edge appeals across generations.
“Our goals are to provide a highly entertaining and energetic concert that’s inviting to everybody, whether you go to church or not,” he said.
There’s also an emphasis on humor, especially among the band members who at one point played two horns at once. “The guys in the band are so animated. The show is filled with lots of choreography.”
Bierman said the act didn’t come together until he accepted something about himself.
“I had to come to grips with the fact that God made me an entertainer.” Growing up in the church, he’d come to believe that entertaining was evil, but he now believes his unique personality can be used for God’s glory.
The Mile High Orchestra wants other young horn players to be encouraged to use their gifts for God. They host clinics for musicians, and the drummer runs a record label. There are plans in the future for a television show.
Their music is entertaining, but ultimately, their message is uplifting.
“Our group is a living testimony to the power of God,” Bierman said. “It’s really a true testament to who God is, not who we are, and I want people to find hope in that.”