Korri Wojack – Staff Writer
This week’s Gustie of the Week is James Patrick Miller, Professor of the Gustavus Wind Orchestra, or as most refer to them, GWO. The Gustavus Wind Orchestra is “one of the nation’s most storied collegiate touring wind ensembles, the Gustavus Wind Orchestra tours nationally each year, internationally every four years, and was selected to perform at the College Band Directors National Association North Central Division Conference in 2020 and 2016 and the Minnesota Music Educators Association Conference in 2018” according to the Gustavus website.
Whether you are a music person or not, there is no doubt that Gustavus has some of the most amazing opportunities for musicians, and the most amazing musicians themselves. But of course what is an orchestra without their conductor? Professor Miller has been at home on the Hill for nine total years now, but his amazing musical journey started long before Gustavus.
Professor Miller grew up in Winona, Minnesota, and enjoyed playing baseball, basketball, and golf. To this day he is still an avid golfer, and now sports a single digit handicap. For those of you non-golfers, a single digit handicap is very difficult to reach and extremely impressive. His love of golf stayed through college at St. Olaf, where he also enjoyed ultimate frisbee, Dungeons and Dragons, ballroom dancing, and video games. During his time at St. Olaf, he focused on a music education major, and once graduated magna cum laude, he headed to Ithaca College, where he received his M.M. (Master of Music) degree in conducting. Not done yet, Professor Miller strove even further to get his D.M.A. (Doctorate of Musical Arts), also in conducting, from the University of Minnesota.
Professor Miller has led an amazing musical journey. From 2002 to 2006 he worked as Assistant Director of Wind Ensembles and Conductor of the Chorale at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. In 2003 he received national recognition by winning the American Choral Directors Association National Conducting Prize at the graduate level, and ten years later he was recognized nationally again, this time for his research on Karel Husa’s Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Concert Band. From 2009-2014 he was Assistant Professor and Director of Wind Studies at the University of Massachusetts, and from 2012-2014 he also served as the conducting pedagogue for the United States Coast Guard Band’s Conductor Mentor program.
Miller first came to Gustavus during the 2008-2009 school year when Dr. Douglas Nimmo took sabbatical. Falling in love with the Gustavus environment, community, and atmosphere, Miller says it best himself.
“I loved it here. The Gustavus Wind Orchestra stole my heart that year, and I knew some day I wanted to try and come back. In 2014 I was given the opportunity to return, and it has been a blessing every day since” Miller said.
Miller enjoys going on walks through the Arboretum, and of course enjoys spending as much time as he can with family, his wife and fellow Gustavus conductor, Heidi Johanna Miller, and two amazing daughters, Linnea and Ingrid. In the summer, he spends his time on the golf course, taking his competitive game very seriously. Besides conducting the Gustavus Wind Orchestra and teaching conducting and music education, Miller loves teaching his FTS on Film and Video Game music.
When asked what his favorite thing about being a here at Gustavus was, Miller answered the following.
“The students, they challenge me every day. They are a joy and make my life on the hill worthwhile each and every day. I love the Gustavus Wind Orchestra and all of its members, and the students in my FTS every fall are just awesome, creative, fun human-beings. I am blessed to be here.
But without question the best thing about being a professor at Gustavus are the students.” When asked, Miller’s students had nothing but good things to say about him and his classes. Many commented about the fantastic energy and imagination he brings to class and rehearsals, easily making orchestra one of their favorite things here at dear old GAC.
One thing that separates Gustavus students and faculty from the rest is our determination to strive forward, reaching for progress in ourselves and the community around us. When Miller was asked how he helps push for progress, he returned with the following, “I work hard and try my best each and every day. I attempt (and fail) to lead by example. I’m not sure I’ve made that much of an impact here, but I am proud of the work I did to help redesign the music education curriculum. I’m also very proud of the Bjorling Music Festival, new since my arrival” Miller said.
“I also served as chair of the college curriculum committee during the design and implementation of the new Challenge Curriculum; that took many hours of effort, work, compromise, and collaboration. I believe the community in the Gustavus Bands program and in the Gustavus Wind Orchestra are incredible. The welcoming community, collaboration, hard work, dedication, humor, joy, and tears we share every day bring such deep meaning to my life. And finally, now that I have many former students out teaching band in Minnesota and around the nation, I am beaming with pride in their work, impact, and achievements” Miller said.
A fantastic professor, a skilled conductor, and a Gustie through and through, Miller was more than deserving of this week’s Gustie of the Week title.