Music, more music and a memorial

Friday, April 20, 2012

Shortly after my wife and I arrived in Cape Girardeau 18 years ago, we were invited to a party in one of the restored and renovated jewels of the city's historic homes. There was music coming from the living room, piano jazz. It was wonderful. It was classy. It was special.

It was Gary Miller.

Dr. Gary Miller, a longtime music faculty member at Southeast Missouri State University, died nearly a year ago, in his prime. Friends and colleagues at the River Campus presented a memorial concert last week. It was another of the gems that are polished by the outstanding 25 or so music faculty members at the university.

Listening to Miller roam across a piano keyboard spoke of only one dimension of his musical talent and interests. Like so many of you, our long-distance relationship with the gifted performer gave us glimpses of what he brought to the university, his students and the community.

We would go to symphony concerts and look to see what section Miller was in this time. He was so versatile on so many instruments that he sat wherever he was needed.

Another sample of Miller's immense talent came a few years ago at the First Presbyterian Church memorial service for John Blue, one of my predecessors as editor of the Southeast Missourian. Blue had planned the service down to the last detail, bagpiper included. Miller was the longtime organist for the church and gave his all when the congregation sang one of John's favorites, "Lord of the Dance." It was amazing. Imagine, if you will, Presbyterians on the verge of dancing at a memorial service.

As director of the River Campus at the time of his death, Miller was responsible for the business of educating students pursuing the arts. One of the River Campus' best performance spaces is the Shuck recital hall where last week's concert was given.

Under the competent direction of Dr. Steve Hendricks, one of the concert's highlights was a special tribute, "In Memoriam," by another faculty member, Robert Fruehwald, specially commissioned for the memorial event. It took away the breath of the appreciative audience.

The concert presented aspects of music education ranging from beginning Suzuki violin students under the direction of Hays Hendricks to the mellow medieval voices of Cantus Choralis, the 20-student chamber choir.

Mary Mims of the music faculty lent her soprano voice to a haunting traditional Jewish song expressing the hope and expectation for the coming of the Messiah.

One of the pieces performed by the Suzuki students was "Redwing." I first encountered it more than 50 years ago as a high school freshman when the boys in a mixed chorus in my tiny high school sang the choral version of the love for a beautiful Indian maiden.

Sitting next to me, a new friend -- Alice -- said what I was thinking: "The only thing that would have made that better was if we could sing along."

I would be remiss if I didn't mention one more performer at the concert, Sarah Hoffmeister, a graduating student who accompanied one and all on the harpsichord and piano. Her gifted musical ability will serve her well as she continues her musical studies at the University of Indiana, and she will be sorely missed by students and faculty here.

What's left? Only to say thank you to everyone who raised up the life of Gary Miller in such a special tribute.

Joe Sullivan is the retired editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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