Dave Miller: Keeping the band in step

Arts profile

Posted: Thursday, March 09, 2000

Drum major: Dave Miller is a different kind of bandleader. A clarinetist in the Juneau Volunteer Marching Band, he doesn't lead the music - he leads the marching.

Miller said when he arrived in Juneau in 1995, the band had about 30 musicians. That number has more than doubled in the past few years. That can be a logistical nightmare when the streets are packed during the Fourth of July parade.

``You've got to be careful about how you maneuver the band,'' Miller said. ``Because of my military experience, Stan Westbrook, the former director, said, `You're now the drum major. Get these people safely and efficiently through the streets of Juneau.'''

Armed with a baton and a whistle, that's just what Miller has done for the past few years. A few days before the parade, Miller paints lines on the streets to help the band negotiate the turns. He also prepared a slide show for the band, taking photos of downtown streets from above to teach them the route in advance.

Bass bell ringer: Miller also plays in the Resurrection Lutheran Church handbell choir, the Celebration Ringers.

``I play the bass bells, the big ones that seem like they never stop ringing,'' he said.

The group participated in Choirfest 2000 last week, and last summer the ringers traveled to Skagway and Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, to perform.

Ruble Rouser and symphony clarinetist: Miller also plays clarinet in the Ruble Rousers, a Juneau Dixieland jazz band. The group plays throughout the year at receptions and special events, and traveled to Skagway last summer to perform.

Miller is a clarinetist in the Juneau Symphony as well. He enjoys the contrast between the formality of symphonic music and the looseness of Dixieland.

``With the symphony, every note is written and every note is played. With Dixieland, you're playing your heart out trying to keep up with the other players. Then you turn the page and it says `32 bars clarinet solo,''' he said.

Miller enjoys the solos, but that's not his favorite part about playing music.

``I'd rather be a part of a group in a floodlight than be by myself in a spotlight. I like the team effort,'' he said.

Miller, who turned 57 this week, grew up in Salinas, Kan. He said his mother and sister are both symphony-quality violinists. His mother, now in her 80s, still plays violin. Miller's grandfather was a music teacher and played clarinet and toured with legendary bandleader John Philip Sousa in the 1930s.

Miller served as bomber pilot in the Air Force and flew B-52s and KC-135s in the Vietnam era.

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