Timothy Lee Miller is an American composer, arranger and publisher writing new contemporary concert music for chamber ensembles, orchestra, wind ensemble, chorus and solo voice, and even jazz music. He has written for several small film and television projects but his primary focus is composing concert music. However, in his newest album SOMETHING MORE, we see much more of his jazz influence.
Today, Timothy is our next featured artist in “The Inside Story,” a blog series exploring the inner workings and personalities of our artists. Read on to hear about the moving waltz that Timothy dedicates to his mother…
Who were your first favorite artists growing up?
Although I started playing piano when I was three and trumpet when I was in third grade, I don’t really remember any specific artists that I was drawn to until I was in sixth or seventh grade band. I became most of aware of trumpet players like Doc Severinsen, Herb Alpert and Chuck Mangione. As I moved into high school, I was mostly concerned with classical music, having discovered the local public radio station that played programs of great music. I was learning who all of the great classical trumpeters were, like Bud Herseth, Maurice Andre, and Wynton Marsalis.
When I started to discover jazz, trumpeters like Maynard Ferguson, Dizzy Gillespie, Arturo Sandoval and Bill Chase began to stick out. As for composers, I was struck with the music of Stravinsky early on, but also Aaron Copland, Mahler and Wagner. In the jazz world it was the music of Chuck Mangione and Chip Davis of Mannheim Steamroller that were big influences early on in my writing career.
When did you realize that you wanted to be an artist/composer/creator?
In high school, my best friend and I played trumpet all the time, getting together after school to practice, playing duets and listening to a lot of the records of great trumpet players. We both had excelled at playing and made it into the All State band in Tennessee. We tried to emulate the playing styles of the greats, especially Maynard Ferguson and Bill Chase.
I had dreams of being a great trumpet player in the future. However, one day I was at a local music store in Knoxville and stumbled on some score manuscript paper. I had been writing arrangements for the high school pep band as early as my freshman year, but the blank score paper intrigued me. I took some home and sat down at the piano and began to scribble things down. Of course, none of it made sense then, but it put the wheels in motion.
During my junior and senior years in high school, I took music theory classes and had a great base of knowledge of the inner workings of music. By the time I graduated and went to college, I had already written a couple of things. Numerous arrangements had been performed at schools, at churches, etc. Thanks to my music theory classes I was able to jump straight into sophomore music theory as a freshman. I was the first to ever accomplish that at the University of Tennessee at the time.
By my senior year at UT, I had dabbled in writing things for the trumpet and brass choirs, with a couple of premiere performances under my belt. I took a composition class with composer John Anthony Lennon. Although I was a music education major about to become a band director, I was hooked on writing. Once I graduated, and indeed did become a band director, I spent a lot of my time writing arrangements for my band, as well as for a few others in the area. It soon became apparent to me that writing was more of where I wanted to be rather than teaching. I decided to go back to school to get a graduate degree in composition, and the rest is history, so to speak.
What was the most embarrassing thing that happened during a performance?
During high school and college, I played a lot of gigs as a trumpet player with other musicians, brass players in particular. There was one performance where I played with my two best friends in high school, David Lamb and Danny Allen. We had played many
times together at church and at school. This performance at a local middle school called for three trumpets. We were to play “For The Beauty of The Earth,” or something like that, and were hidden behind a screen off stage.
Something that all musicians do at times is to miss a note due to what we affectionately called a “frap.” During this performance, one of us had a particularly bad frap, which caused all three of us to burst out laughing – during the performance mind you! We had a hard time completing that gig, but nonetheless, we made it to the end. The music director came to us afterwards and said, “Oh boys, that was just beautiful! Thank you so much!” Once we were out of the school, we couldn’t stop laughing. We still laugh about it to this day!
What is your guilty pleasure?
I would have to say that my guilty pleasure is whiskey, not that I am an alcoholic by any means, but I do enjoy a good sip of whiskey from time to time with some of my closest friends. I have a fairly decent collection in my cabinet at home too. Being born in Kentucky and growing up in Tennessee, I never really appreciated the fact that my two home states were the capital of whiskey until only recently. I like trying out new boutique blends, and I’m still trying to get my hands on a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle’s Reserve.
In the event of a zombie apocalypse, what are the three things you absolutely can’t live without?
Well, I’m pretty certain this won’t be happening any time soon, but you never know. I’ll play along – my phone, some score paper and my Bible.
If you could do any job in the world and make a living at it, what would that be?
I’m already doing what I love most, writing and recording music. And yes, I would do it for free because I love it that much, but it would be great to get paid more for what I do. Unfortunately, the banks are not going let me keep my house and car without paying for them.
If you could spend creative time anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Growing up I spent a lot of time in the mountains of East Tennessee. My favorite place on earth is a little place in the mountains called Cades Cove. It’s a beautiful valley tucked in the Appalachians where Cherokee Indians hunted and early settlers of Tennessee made their homes. There are still several period log cabins there and old pioneer churches that are used today. Just walking into those old structures, the smell, and the dimly lit rooms is enough to inspire a thousand years of material for me. I would love to just sit there and let the streams of consciousness flow. I have written an orchestral piece called Voices from Itsă’tĭ (ee-chah-te), or Echota, which is about the Cherokee, the mountains and Cades Cove.
What would you say to an artist performing your work that nobody else knows?
I believe that all people who write music or words do so from their own personal experiences. I think to effectively perform any music you first must discover why it was written. What was the writer or composer trying to say when they wrote it? To me music always tells a story, and stories are made from memories. We are all made up of memories and stories. My music is who I am. It represents my life’s experiences and me personally. Seek to understand the “why” of the music so that you can know the “how” of the music.
What was your favorite musical moment on the album?
When we recorded Poochie’s Waltz in New York City was probably the most moving moment of the whole album. The song was written for my mom, who at the time was suffering with Parkinson’s and dementia. I related to the guys in the studio what the song was about and why I wrote it. My mom’s favorite song was The Tennessee Waltz. Knowing that she liked waltzes, it was only natural that I should write one for her. The song is very tender and subtle, just like she was. And when they recorded it, there was so much passion and warmth in that studio that I got goose bumps, and of course, shed a couple of tears. I just couldn’t be happier with the way it turned out.
On February 1, 2018, I played that song for my mom, as she lay there on her deathbed unable to move, or speak, or even really open her eyes. I told her that this was her song. It was a waltz just like her favorite song. I told her to imagine dancing with Pops and her whole body twitched a little, then her feet starting to move like she was dancing. When the song finished, I noticed a couple of tears streaming down her face. I had tears too, but more than just two. About an hour or so later, she breathed her last breath and passed on. It’s certainly the most special moment by far, and certainly one that I will never forget.
Was there a piece on your album that you found more difficult to compose/perform than the others?
The final tune and the title track on the album Something More is a highly complex piece. It’s kind of a blend of classical, jazz, and Latin music all in one. The piece is in 5/4, and it starts with just the piano playing an ostinato pattern in the left hand and a melody that floats over the top in the right hand. The melody is passed on to the guitar, then the soprano sax, which then gives way to a bossa nova feel. As the saxophone takes a solo, the beat becomes more undefined, or at least more complex and difficult to find. As the piece progresses, it returns to the original floating melodic figure. Then all hell breaks loose, with everyone soloing at the same time over this very complex rhythmic figure.
The hardest part was trying to get everyone to understand what was going on, or what was supposed to be going on. The clue is in the title though – Something More. The piece is about life, with all of the subtleties and complexities that come with it. It means that there has to be something more to life than just getting up and going to work and coming home, rinse and repeat. When I was writing the music, I was in search of a title. I looked over to the bookshelf in my office and it just leaped off of the shelf – Something More. It’s a book by a noted Christian author named Catherine Marshall, wife of the famed evangelist and writer Peter C. Marshall. I had read the book many years earlier, so I pulled it from the shelf and re- read the foreword, which concludes with, “All – more and more. Always something more. No matter how late the hour, no matter how desperate the moment, we cannot despair; the joy and the riches He has promised us stretch like a shining road into the future!” It’s talking about the guidance of the Holy Spirit directing your ways to receive something more through eternal life than what may appear before you in this earthly life. The song is dedicated to my wife Virginia.
What does this album mean to you personally?
Family means different things to different people. To me, family is where your heart is. Family is home. In the ways that we love and support each other, family provides us with something more in our lives that enriches us and makes us feel like we belong, regardless of our successes or failures along our journey. Each family’s journey is its own story made up of memories, good or bad, from it’s past, present and future. Each song on this album tells a little bit of my own family’s story through the memories that we have shared.
Beyond that, this is my first solo album project. I’ve had several of my pieces of music recorded and released on five previous albums, but those were all compilations with other composers. This is all my music, and it’s jazz. It is not my primary medium, but I love jazz. I love to listen to it, and I love to write it. It inspires me. It’s music that moves your soul and some times your feet. It has allowed me to tell some of the stories that have been important in my life.
Is there a specific feeling you want listeners to tune into when hearing your work?
I hope listeners will take the time to read what each song is about and I hope that they will listen with intent. Listen to understand what the music is saying. Some of the solos on these tunes are so masterfully created and played by incredible musicians. Their creativity along with what I feel makes some of my best music.
Before we recorded each song, I related to the musicians why the song was written, who or what it was about, which I think helped to create a sense of understanding about how to approach the piece. I truly feel that they captured exactly what it was I was trying to say. When I listen to them now, I can feel or see the person for whom the piece was written. I can relive the memories in my mind as the music plays, and to me, that means I was successful. I am satisfied, and I truly hope that others will be able to experience that too as they listen.