Si canta come si parla

“One sings as one speaks.” This is the phrase I think of when I think of Richard Miller, who passed away last Tuesday at the age of 83.

I met Richard Miller on 3 occasions – a week in June 1999 when I attended his pedagogy workshop at Concordia University-River Forest, a master class at NATS 2002 in San Diego, and a master class on Teaching Men to Sing in 2006. The 1999 workshop changed the way I talk about singing, the way I think about singing, and the way I sing. I was singing well before, but it was more or less by sheer luck. I was doing things correctly for the most part, but despite having taken pedagogy in both undergrad and grad school, and voice lessons for 23 years up to that point, I wasn’t really able to describe what I was doing. I had some ideas but they were largely based on imagery and gut, rather than the science and technic of the process.

A few things I remember about Richard Miller…

There was no mirror in the hall at CURF and at one point, he was working with a young girl who was undulating while she sang, and he said, “I wish I had a mirror so I can show you what you’re doing,” and I raised my hand and said, “I have a full-length mirror in my car.” (I had just done a show the week before with limited dressing room facilities and hadn’t unloaded my car before heading down to Illinois.) He said, “You do? Where’s your car?” I said, “Just down the block,” and he said, “WELL, GO GET IT!” So I ran out of the hall, ran down the block, and dragged a full-length mirror down the street, up the steps and into the hall. He used the mirror in his class for the rest of the week.

I also remember singing for him in a master class at the end of the week (after taking copious notes on the previous singers and his comments to them so that I would know what not to do!) and having him say to me, “You will never sound old.” He basically told me to watch out for lifting my chin too much and gave me positive feedback. (Clearly, the man was a genius!) I felt validated, empowered, and invigorated to go back home and rethink the way I was explaining things. My studio took off after that point.

I had been intimidated by the idea of taking this workshop because I didn’t think I’d understand all the scientific jargon. I was never good in science growing up and I was afraid I’d be lost during the lectures. His books had seemed difficult to me before this workshop – I owned several of them, but they weren’t my primary sources. After the workshop, I re-read Structure of Singing and heard his voice in the narrative, awakened to the wit and intelligence behind the science. My admiration of him only grew in San Diego in 2002.

In June 2006, I saw him on the final day of the Teaching Men to Sing workshop and he looked old, small and frail, and I thought, “Oh, what is this going to be like? He’s clearly diminished from 4 years ago. Poor old guy – after all, he is 81 and he has been ill.” The impression was wrong – he was still vibrant, intuitive and as entertaining as ever. My main regret is that I didn’t bring a book for him to autograph – I didn’t want to bother him.

I had looked forward to driving down to Bloomington this June to see him in a master class and bringing my student, Maureen, who was deeply influenced by his books in doing her challenge paper on vocal pedagogy (high school!) to see him. And I was going to get that autograph!

When I read that he had died, I felt a deep loss. I had referred to him semi-seriously as my pedagogical father and that’s the kind of loss I feel.

Yes, he was 83 and lived a good long life. But there was still more he had to offer, and I’m sorry that this upcoming generation of singers will not get to hear that voice.

With that mind, I think I’ll go dig out my cassette of his 2002 master class. Perhaps if I hear him speak, I will want to sing.

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