If piano was the only instrument that David H. Miller ’11 had ever learned to play, countless performance groups and the Harvard music department would have missed out. In just four years at Harvard, Miller, a music concentrator, has worked as assistant conductor for the Harvard-Radcliffe Mozart Society Orchestra, served on the board of the Harvard Early Music Society, and played double bass in the Brattle Street Chamber Players, a dynamic 14-member string chamber orchestra. An integral member of the college music scene, he has ensured that his absence will be felt.
One of his first experiences with music, however, was not nearly as positive as one might expect. “I took piano lessons as a kid and hated it, which is very ironic to think about now,” Miller says. Only when he learned to play the double bass did his interest in music flourish and eventually develop into a dedication to the performance arts.
In addition to performing in a vast array of musical groups, Miller connects with music on an academic level as a music concentrator; naturally, he brings certain aspects of musical performance and training to academic coursework, and often finds himself inadvertently joining the two. “When I’m doing academic work, I approach it with a performer’s mindset, to a certain degree. That’s how I learned to interact with music: as a performer,” said Miller, who plans to continue with music after graduation by studying bass in Vienna next fall. “One of the amazing things about Harvard is that you have the opportunity to do such a wide breadth of activities. I would love to combine playing and academic work, which is something I’ve really enjoyed here.” Those who have had the pleasure of performing with him hold Miller in high regard: “David is an incredible musician, a really committed person and he’s the reason why Brattle [Street Chamber Players] is as good as it is these days,” said Charlotte S. Austin ’11, a viola player in the Brattle Street Chamber Players and a close friend of Miller’s. “As president, he took the group into his hands and transformed it, and [led us in] a tour to New York, which Brattle had never done before.”
Though the combination of academic work and playing outside of class is immensely enjoyable, Miller admits that it is, of course, a challenge to engage with music on such a immersive level both in and outside of schoolwork, but “academic study and performance have a very symbiotic relationship,” Miller notes. “They both do things that the other can’t. A piece of music really requires someone to perform it, and when you take [an academic approach] to music, you can delve deeper into the fabric of the music itself without having to worry about the practicalities and the technical aspects of performance.”
Miller maintains a yearlong relationship with music by traveling the world in summers between school years to pursue his passion for playing and conducting. He played bass in a music festival in North Carolina after freshman year, completed thesis research in Switzerland last summer, and studied conducting in Paris after sophomore year. “Those [experiences] have been really valuable in complementing what I do here,” says Miller of his summer activities. Though he has found inspiration over his summer abroad, his collaborations with other musicians at Harvard provide their own kind of inspiration. In nostalgic reflection on his time as an undergraduate at the College, Miller says that the extraordinary passion of those with whom he’s worked has helped motivate him as well. “It’s incredible how invested and committed people are to really achieving something at a very high level. In many ways that’s been the most affirming, inspiring thing that I’ve experienced here. It makes me feel like what I’m doing really matters if it matters so much to [so many] other people.”