Jared Miller has been appointed by the Victoria Symphony as its new composer-in-residence (photo from Jared Miller)
Jared Miller has always loved music. “When I was around 3 years old, I would beg my parents every single day to watch the movie Fantasia because I loved the music in it so much,” he told the Independent in an interview from his home in New York, where he has been studying for his doctoral degree at the Juilliard School. “I also loved the animation, but got quite scared whenever the sorcerer appeared on screen. I would hide under a special blanket with holes in it. The blanket would protect me from what seemed like an evil sorcerer, but the holes in it still allowed me to enjoy my favorite movie and music, unscathed.”
Miller still loves music and, today, he is among its creators. Recently, the Victoria Symphony announced his appointment as its new composer-in-residence. According to Miller, the primary function of a composer-in-residence is to compose original pieces of music for the organization that employs him – in his case, the Victoria Symphony – and be a musical emissary to the local community. He is uniquely suited to both aspects of his new appointment.
On the composition front, one of his piano compositions, “Souvenirs d’Europe,” debuted at Carnegie Hall in 2011 and won the 2012 ASCAP Morton Gould Award. It was also used as the required piece for the 2013 Knigge Piano Competition. His orchestral works have been performed by several North America orchestras. And his efforts to promote classical music started before he was in his teens. He has been playing and talking about music at every possible venue, from nursing homes to elementary schools.
“I began playing in care homes when I was about 9 years old, and my grandparents were staying at Louis Brier in Vancouver,” he said. “Initially, I would just play the piano there, while we were visiting my grandparents, to occupy my time. Eventually, I drew a bit of a crowd and got sincere enjoyment out of it. This stopped in 2005, when my grandmother passed away. Then I began playing in care homes again in 2008, when I got a job as an Artsway Ambassador with B.C. Health Arts Society. I tried to keep it interesting by playing a variety of music – from Mozart to my own compositions to 1920s and ’30s pop music.”
During those performances, he spoke to his audience about each piece, inviting their participation. At about the same time, while he was a music student at the University of British Columbia, he widened his activities to encompass groups of schoolchildren.
“I began in 2007 as a post-secondary-music-student ambassador for the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra’s Connects program. For this program, I got to visit a bunch of different elementary schools in the Lower Mainland and teach them about classical music in a manner to which they could relate. One of the modules I taught focused on how music could tell a story. Since then, I have worked with Vancouver Opera in the schools, as well, and with New York’s Opportunity Music Project, which provides underprivileged children in the New York City area with free music instruments, lessons and performance opportunities.”
“I feel incredibly privileged to have been exposed to classical music and to be able to pursue it as a career. It has made my life extraordinary and, in doing musical outreach, I can share this feeling with other people who may not necessarily have access to classical music otherwise.”
For a busy young composer, he invests a great deal of time in outreach programs and he feels strongly in their mission. There are many reasons he participates in these programs. “For one, it’s fun. It allows me to find creative ways to introduce audiences to classical music, which is very satisfying for me,” he said. “I feel incredibly privileged to have been exposed to classical music and to be able to pursue it as a career. It has made my life extraordinary and, in doing musical outreach, I can share this feeling with other people who may not necessarily have access to classical music otherwise.”
He sees his work with the community as a way of introducing the future generation to his beloved art form, and to push back against school budget cuts. Furthermore, by doing the outreach, especially in schools, he might also plant the seeds for classical music’s future audience. Because no matter how much the music profession has evolved throughout the ages, one aspect has remained consistent, he said: “… a composer’s need to self-promote. From Handel, to Beethoven, to Aaron Copland, composers have always had to be rather active about looking out for their own careers. These days, with the plethora of social media outlets, it is easier than ever to do this, albeit more time-consuming.”
Despite his packed schedule, he also finds time for some musically unrelated fun. “I love food,” he admitted. “New York, where I’ve been based for the past four years, is definitely the place to be in this regard (although I do miss Vancouver’s sushi). I love cooking and trying new restaurants. To counter this abundance of calories, I also love running. It’s a great way to see the city and to escape the everyday pace of life.”
After settling in Victoria, with his schooling finally out of the way, he might also try a new hobby or two. “I’m interested in attempting to paint and maybe learn some kind of martial art. Who knows? The sky is the limit.”
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at olgagodim@ gmail.com.