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In Memoriam: Ed Miller, Emeritus Professor of Composition

September 5, 2013
Erich Burnett

Throughout his 27 years at Oberlin, Professor of Composition Edward J. Miller found inspiration in the work of his students and fellow faculty members.

Miller, likewise, was an inspiration to countless others: His compositions have been performed by numerous major orchestras, including the Berlin Philharmonic and the Cleveland Orchestra, and he earned widespread acclaim for his work.

Miller, who retired in 1998, died on August 31 after an extended illness.

“The thing that impressed me most about Ed was his ability to teach a wide variety of courses,” says Professor Warren Darcy, a longtime colleague of Miller’s at Oberlin. “Music Theory, Aural Skills, Composition—he taught it all, and he did it all very well.

“In addition, he was a first-rate composer, and he wrote some of the most beautiful music that ever flowed from the pen of a late-20th-century composer.”

As a younger man, Miller was fortunate to study with some of the best. Born in Miami, he began playing music at age 10, and by 16 was performing in a professional jazz band. He earned a bachelor of music from the University of Miami, then won a Koussevitzky Prize, which afforded him the opportunity to study with Mexican composer Carlos Chavez at Tanglewood’s Berkshire Music Center. Miller had been recommended for the prize by Aaron Copland, who called Miller one of the “young talents whose music commands attention.”

Miller later earned a master’s degree in composition from the Hartt School of Music at the University of Hartford, where he taught for 12 years before joining the faculty of Oberlin. Over the course of his career, Miller won two Ohio Arts Council Awards, a composition award from the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Cleveland Arts Prize, among other honors.

Miller’s compositions—he wrote roughly 70 of them in all—were performed by a number of fellow Oberlin faculty members, including Peter Takács, Gregory Fulkerson, Daune Mahy, and Marlene and Michael Rosen. Though his works tended toward the upbeat, Miller was most proud of The Seven Last Days, an apocalyptic piece he wrote for chorus, orchestra, film, and tape.

“Ed had a fantastic attentiveness to the general flow of music,” says Professor of Violin Gregory Fulkerson, for whom Miller wrote a piece called Beyond the Wheel in the mid-1980s. Fulkerson played it in Cleveland and New York, where a New York Times critic praised it for its “shimmering otherworldly texture.”

Seven years after his retirement, Miller relocated to New Mexico with his wife, Judi Miller, a former Oberlin professor of psychology.

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