Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Rest In Peace, Richard Miller (1926- May 5, 2009)

Like many curious young voice teachers, I attended a couple of Richard Miller's seminars in the late 1990s. I did not get to know him well, only because my schedule often took me to Europe while he was in the States. However, over the years I got to know him well through students of his that I have gotten to teach in New York, or through my former students who went to Oberlin to work with him, or through his many articles and books, or through mutual colleagues.

What I have come to know of Richard Miller is that he lived in great part for his work. He must have felt he had a mission to complete. And he did complete it. Voice teachers can no longer pretend that the voice is a totally mysterious entity. Richard Miller did everything possible to bring empirical knowledge of the vocal instrument to the masses in a language that they could understand. While Vennard and Coffin gave us the rudiments of acoustics and anatomy, Miller gave us practical strategies for teaching singing based on an ever-developing discipline now coined vocology.

Vocology or applied vocal science had developed quickly since personal computers became a household item. But it was Miller who championed the idea of science-based teaching. The work I do via this blog is an offshoot of what he had done with more conventional means. My goals are very likely the same as his were: 1) to disseminate the fact that the voice is not as mysterious as it is comfortable to think, through finding a layman's language with which to explain vocal function 2) To challenge vigorously vocal myths while preserving the wisdoms of tradition 3) To arm singers and teachers with knowledge so they may enjoy their voices with confidence and help others to develop theirs. 

Such noble pursuits are often met with ridicule and those who understand little prefer to understand little and do not like the fire that such a Prometheus as Miller brought with him. The vocal establishment was very resistant to take the journey with Miller. In the end, he prevailed and inspired a whole generation of science-based teachers who owe it to themselves not to ride on Miller's laurels--because the masses  know neither the difference between crico-thyroid and crico-arytenoid nor between formants and formaldehyde--but to continue the work that he did by educating a new generation of voice teachers that see vocal science as a necessity. 

Dear Richard Miller, the world of singing is eternally in your debt and I for one will sing your praises whenever I get a chance. I disagreed with some of your concepts and dwelt more on those minor differences than on the fundamentals you so carefully laid out and that have fostered my own vocal science education. Though we barely knew each other, I could not have found my path without the vast road that you have paved before me.  You are a hero to so many and I remain humbled before your timeless achievements.

Requiescat in Pacem

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