Musicians remember Miller MUS ’07 in concert

Students and faculty paid tribute to the life of John Miller MUS ’07 on Sunday in a concert that featured heavy brass instruments.
Students and faculty paid tribute to the life of John Miller MUS ’07 on Sunday in a concert that featured heavy brass instruments. Photo by Andrew Kahn.

A musician in life, John Miller MUS ’07 received a musical tribute in death.

On Sunday afternoon, Miller’s former students, as well as faculty and alumni at the Yale School of Music, held a memorial concert at Sprague’s Morse Recital Hall in honor of Miller, a member of the school’s staff and a leader in its involvement with New Haven public schools who passed away Sept. 15. The tribute sought to celebrate Miller’s life and musical passion, said Dana Astmann, the manager of concerts and public relations for the School of Music.

“We didn’t want it to be a second funeral,” Astmann said. “We wanted it to be a celebration of his really fabulous and warm personality, his zest for life.”

With this goal in mind, the concert’s musicians from the School of Music selected pieces that emphasized brass instruments since Miller played the trombone, Music School Dean Robert Blocker said. Students and faculty who specialize in brass performed, such as the Yale Brass Choir, the Yale Trombone Choir and the Yale Trombone Quartet.

Students who Miller had taught at the Morse Summer Music Academy, an intensive music program for young musicians from New Haven public schools, performed original compositions written specifically for the occasion. Two of Miller’s 10th-grade students, flautist Katherine Roque and trumpeter José Meza, said they composed pieces commemorating Miller’s impact on their lives.

“He influenced us beyond our music,” Roque said as she introduced her piece, titled “More than a Teacher.”

The introduction to the concert included a photo montage celebrating Miller’s leadership of the Music in Schools initiative, an outreach program that sends School of Music students to teach and instill a love of music in students at 25 New Haven public schools. Since Miller was hired by the School of Music to lead the initiative in 2007, he had shown a deep investment in his students’ musical success, even driving them to auditions and offering counseling on secondary school choices, principal of John C. Daniels Middle School Gina Wells told the News in September.

Associate Dean of the School of Music Michael Yaffe said Miller paid attention not only to the musical education of his students, but also to their performance style.

“In case [students] forgot to dress appropriately and wore white socks,” Yaffe said, “John would keep black duct tape behind the stage so he could fix [their outfits before they performed].”

Both Yaffe and Miller’s students noted that Miller will continue to impact music in New Haven schools for years to come.

Blocker said that because all the performers at the concert knew Miller personally, their performance could truly capture their admiration for him.

“In commemorating the life and work of John, only music can express our deepest thoughts and feelings,” Blocker added.

Miller died Sept. 15 after falling from a fourth-story window in Hendrie Hall on Elm Street. The University determined the death an “apparent suicide.”

The event was free and open to the public, drawing an audience of Miller’s family and friends, Yale community members and New Haven public school students. Audience members could make memorial donations to the John Miller Instrument Fund for New Haven Public Schools.

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