River Campus director Gary Miller dies

Friday, May 6, 2011
Robert Conger conducts the jazz lab band as they perform Carl Strommen's "Sausalito Strut" to a crowd of 140 Thursay, May 5, 2011 in the Donald C. Bedell Performance Hall on the River Campus of Southeast Missouri State University. (Laura Simon)

Many of Gary Miller's colleagues claim no words can describe him, but several come flooding out at the sound of his name: consummate musician, teacher, mentor, linguist, harpsichordist, friend.

Miller, who died Wednesday, was the associate dean and director of the Earl and Margie Holland School of Visual and Performing Arts -- otherwise known as the Southeast Missouri State University River Campus where the university cultivates art, dance, theater and music.

Miller loved and looked after it all.

"It's a big loss. It's a huge loss for the whole area," said Chris Goeke, who took over as chairman of the department of music after Miller moved up. "It's hard to put into words what he did and what he meant to this whole community, because he was very quiet about what he did."

Miller became director of the River Campus in 2006, about a year before the campus opened. He was responsible for moving the department into the facility, coordinating the grand opening festivities and serving as associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts. This was his 31st year at the university.

Goeke had worked with Miller since 1992 when they were both professors. Miller moved up, but Goeke said he never really felt like a boss.

"It felt like a mentor that I could go to with certain questions," he said. "He was just always just right there. Solid as a rock. Great thinker, clear thinker."

Miller and Goeke shared a stage as well as a profession. Miller often accompanied not only Goeke, but dozens of other singers and musicians in the area. He was a master organ and harpsichord player and dabbled deeply in oboe, cello and piano.

"He's just great at everything he did," Goeke said. "I've never met a renaissance man such as Gary."

Miller could play almost anything technically, Goeke said, "but still brought so much musicianship to it -- and insight. I could never get enough of performing with Gary. He was just an outstanding man and it really hasn't sunk into me that he won't be around.

"It's going to be a big hole in our lives around here."

Miller held degrees from the University of Northern Iowa and the University of Michigan. He also earned the Artist's Diploma from the Staatliche Hochschule fuer Musik in Cologne, Germany. He studied organ, organ history and harpsichord while there. He was fluent in German and could mimic almost any accent in America. He helped build the Southeast Baroque Ensemble and sat in on several other university music groups, including the jazz ensembles.

"He could play jazz piano like nobody else," said Robert Conger, associate professor of music at Southeast and director of the Southeast Jazz Ensembles.

Conger and the student musicians who played in Thursday's "Eclectic and Electric" concert, which ended the jazz series for the year, dedicated the show to Miller.

"Gary Miller's the reason I'm at Southeast," Conger said. Miller was the department chairman when Conger interviewed at the school in 2004.

"He was a caring and concerned individual who was a consummate musician and artist," he said. "He's been the most supportive individual for me in terms of moral support."

Conger said Miller would often attend the jazz concerts and send him a note the next day about the quality of the show.

"He let you know you're wanted and you're doing a good job," Conger said.

Miller was not only a supportive administrator and accomplished musician, he was also a treasured teacher. Conger said his phone rattled with calls and text messages Thursday from former students who had discovered Miller's passing.

Conger and students shared stories and memories about Miller before the concert and during intermission.

Many in the school of performing and visual arts say they are dazed, stunned, shocked. But each of them say they respected and will miss Miller.

charris@semissourian.com

388-3641

Pertinent address:

518 S. Fountain St., Cape Girardeau, MO

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