Friday, March 31, 2006
TOM MILLER AT OXFORD
Caribbean swings into Oxford
OXFORD — Musicians know, “Sometimes you find your instrument, and sometimes your instrument finds you.”
When Tom Miller was an undergraduate percussion major at the University of Akron, he’d barely heard of a steel drum when the school began one of the first such programs in the Midwest.
Now he’s “one of the most significant composers of steel band music today,” according to Chris Tanner, director of the Miami University Steel Band.
Today and Saturday, Miller will join the M.U. ensemble for its spring concert series and a celebration of the band’s new compact disc, “Simple Pleasures.”
“I did not plan to devote my career to the steel drum when I graduated,” Miller said. “But after I graduated, I thought it was a good time to explore the music scene on the West Coast.”
He moved to Los Angeles, and in addition to working with symphonies and playing the drum kit for bands, Miller fell into a circle of Caribbean musicians.
“I thought it was just another tool to be marketable in a big city,” he said.
But because of his education, he soon found himself doing a lot of session work for television and film.
“There were some amazing Caribbean players,” he said, “but they all played by rote and in the sessions, they needed someone who could read music.”
The pans started taking up so much of his time that he got more serious about it, eventually making several trips to Trinidad to learn from the musicians there, to give him some street credibility.
“It kind of snuck up on me, but I finally decided to pursue the steel drums as my career,” he said.
Among the things he learned from the Trinidad trips was not only to play by ear, but also to pick up on the unique rhythms of genuine Caribbean playing.
“There’s a different feel, a different swing,” he said. “Some of the intricacies of that I wasn’t getting here because I wasn’t immersed in the Caribbean culture.”
During his three-day residency at Miami, he will impart some of those street smarts to the band there, what he calls “one of the premiere ensembles in the U.S.”
Tanner said that the band will play selections from “Simple Pleasures,” the band’s third compact disc and the first one to exclusively feature original music, including two Miller compositions and three Tanner compositions.
“For the first time, we recorded right here on campus,” Tanner said. “The technology has come so far that we don’t have to go to a recording studio. We recorded it in our practice room and saved ourselves a lot of money.”
Concerts will take place in Hall Auditorium, Oxford Campus, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Admission is $7, $5 for Miami students, and all seats are reserved. Tickets for the event are available at the MU Box Office, (513) 529-3200.
Posted by Harry Best at 5:29 PM