Vocal Concert Celebrates Richard Miller
When Richard Miller retired at the end of last year, Oberlin’s Conservatory of Music lost a highly distinguished faculty member. After 42 years of teaching, he reached the position of Wheeler Professor of Singing (Emeritus) and has published eight books and numerous scholarly articles.
If his accomplishments as a pedagogue and performer do not speak well enough of Miller’s skill, then his ten former students featured in last Sunday night’s concert in Finney Chapel surely do.
To open the evening, Conservatory Dean David H. Stull addressed the audience briefly to honor Miller’s contributions to Oberlin and to the field of voice pedagogy as a whole. After an enthusiastic round of applause and cheers for Miller, the first featured alumnus took the stage.
The first half of the program featured Oberlin faculty members Visiting Professor of Voice Kendra Colton, OC ’83 and Associate Professor of Singing Salvatore Champagne, OC ’85. The duo performed Schumann’s sweet duet “In der nacht.” Champagne also performed three lieder by Franz Schubert. His interpretations were extremely convincing and encompassed everything from the sweetly innocent to the melancholy. His physical expressions made the performance refreshingly personal.
Also featured in the first half was baritone Robert Sims, OC ’88, who sang three American folk songs that ranged from the blue to the whimsical. “Is There Anybody Here” is a old-time spiritual arranged by Roland M. Carter that entreats the audience to shout “amen.” He also sang Aaron Copland’s famous arrangement of “I Bought Me a Cat.” This selection, he explained, was in honor of a set of photographs of animals’ mouths that once hung in Miller’s office to demonstrate bad vowel shapes for singing. All technique aside, Sims brought his own personal touch to this frequently-heard work and had the audience laughing heartily.
Perhaps the greatest treat on the program was the rich bass-baritone voice of Andrew Nolen, OC ’97. His full, thick voice filled the room with a fantastic wash of sound that hardly seemed to be human. In performing a Schubert lied as well as an excerpt from Vincenzo Bellini’s La Sonnambula he wielded his massive voice with such grace and control that one could not help but be awe-struck.
Baritone David Adam Moore, OC ’97, concluded the cavalcade of alumni performances. He sang an intensely emotional rendition of Gustav Mahler’s “Urlicht,” one of Mahler’s many settings of the poems from Das Knaben Wunderhorn. His expression was deeply moving and maintained the perfect balance of innocence and profundity necessary for this cry for the light of God.
As an encore, all ten alumni and the two pianists involved in the evening performed a final song in unison. The generous applause of the audience for both Miller, who was asked to stand, and the performers of the evening marks his accomplishments as a teacher and the great appreciation the Oberlin community has for him.
Miller, a native of Canton, Ohio, founded the Otto B. Schoepfle Vocal Arts Center, which uses scientific equipment to provide singers with visual representations of their voices in order to gain a greater understanding of how they work.
He has won many awards including the Voice Foundation of America’s Voice Education Research and Awareness Award in 2006, the New York Singing Teachers Association’s Recognition Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2002 and was honored with the French Ministry of Culture’s Chevalier/Officier, L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1990.
Miller, who is, in the words of Dean Stull, “a legend in the field of music,” has been a fixture at Oberlin for many years and will be sorely missed.