Editor’s Note: Kicks presents 20Q, a feature that introduces readers to people involved in the area’s arts and entertainment community. Compiled by kicks Editor Greg Little, each piece will include a short bio, photo and answers to questions that provide insight into not only that person’s artistic interests but also his or her unique personality.
When it comes to music, there aren’t many Janesville high school students who haven’t had contact with Adam Miller.
Not only is Miller the director of Craig High School’s Spotlighters show choir, he also serves as director of all musicals at the school. In addition, he leads Craig’s a capella choir and treble choir (Bella Voce), and teaches Music Technology, and offers courses in Introduction to Music Theory, Music History and AP Music Theory at both Craig and Parker high schools. In summer, Miller keeps busy directing plays for Rock River Repertory Theater.
Miller’s work resulted in a 2015 Aspire Award from the Academy of Show Choir Professionals for Best New Director, and he has collected a handful of Jerry Awards for music direction and productions recognized in the category of Overall Outstanding Musicals. Additionally, Miller’s choir students have performed twice at the White House, placed second at the 2017 Show Choir National Finals in Chicago and performed with Broadway singer Kristin Chenoweth that same year. Craig’s 2016 production of “Into the Woods,” for which Miller served as music director, was recognized as one of the top 10 theater productions of the year—including professional productions—by Madison.com.
A La Crosse product, Miller graduated Central High School in 2006 and earned his Bachelor of Science degree in music education at UW-La Crosse. His family consists of mom and dad, Nancy and John, sister Amy and dog Molly.
Miller’s current project is Craig High’s production of “Pippin,” which wraps up this weekend. Shows are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, May 9-11, and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, May 12, in the school’s large auditorium, 401 S. Randall Ave., Janesville. Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for seniors 65 and older and $10 for students.
1. When did you first discover your love for music? My first real memory was in Mr. Saner’s music class at Harry Spence Elementary School (in La Crosse). I can still sing all of the lyrics to the greeting song he played on his guitar: “Hello everybody ... yes indeed.” I ran into him a couple of years ago in Brodhead and was able to thank him for kick-starting my love for music. Cool moment for me.
2. What would you say are your most and least favorite genres when it comes to music? Ironically, I don’t listen to much music. When I have a moment to rest, I enjoy silence. My favorite music is choir music (I’m a choir nerd through and through), and my least favorite is scream-o. I can appreciate it, but I can’t understand it.
3. As director of Craig High School’s show choir, Spotlighters, what do you look for in participants? They have to have solid singing and dancing skills, but most important, I look for students who will work really hard to better themselves and the group. We are definitely a unit rather than a group of individuals.
4. Explain the role of a musical director when it comes to theatrical productions? It really depends. It always involves coaching both the principals and the ensemble, teaching all notes and rhythms. I also help the actors make choices on all expressive elements such as phrasing, dynamics, syllabic stress ... sometimes dialect. If there’s an orchestra, that’s sometimes the MD’s job to conduct, but other times, the production team hires a conductor. Basically, everything you hear that has pitch to it has been molded by the music director.
5. In your time with the Craig High School Music Department, have you noticed an increase or decrease in students getting involved in band/musical theater productions? Definitely growth in all aspects. Every year it’s a goal to involve as many students as possible. We’ve even done musicals that weren’t auditioned—”y’all come” musicals—just to get more kids involved. Students play in our pit orchestras annually, and our band, choir and orchestra numbers are very healthy. More than 550 students are involved in music or theater at Craig in some form.
6. When I was in high school, theater students and student athletes didn’t interact with each other very much. Have you seen a change there, or are there still relatively few student athletes taking part in theater productions? Definitely a change there. We have many student athletes involved in music and theater. Music also has shifted to be kind of the “cool” thing at Craig. Our athletes don’t normally do a musical if they are in a sports season, but it has been done—it just requires a lot of flexibility on all ends.
7. What can students gain by participating in theater productions that they don’t get as part of their general education? I think we’ve got good teachers who are teaching important life skills in their classes, but being a part of something that relies on total investment from everyone such as musicals and music ensembles teaches a ton. Teamwork, perseverance, humility, punctuality, drive and passion are skills that are reinforced at every rehearsal.
8. Talk about your own musical background: I have been singing most of my life. Organized choir started for me in fifth grade, and I started show choir in seventh grade. I continued in both throughout grade school and decided I wanted to create music every day and become a teacher. I mostly taught myself piano, but I did take formal lessons for a few years. I played in band in sixth grade until I stepped on my trumpet. Prior to teaching, I worked at the corporate office of Kwik Trip in La Crosse and wrote a song all about Kwik Trip, which helped crown me as the winner of “Kwik Trip’s Got Talent.”
9. Did you take part in band or theater when you were in high school? I wasn’t in band in high school (remember, I stepped on my trumpet in sixth grade), but I was in choir and show choir. Also, we didn’t do musicals in high school at all. I’ve auditioned for one musical in my entire life (in college): “Into the Woods.” I was called back for The Baker and completely bombed my callback. The first time I actually saw a musical score was when I got the job at Craig in 2013. It’s crazy to think that I’ve music directed 11 musicals now.
10. People would be surprised to find out that I: Do not listen to music while driving. At all. I will drive for hours in silence.
11. The greatest thing about working with young people is: Watching 50-plus students completely, 100% invested in the middle of a rehearsal is literally MAGICAL, and it has moved me to tears on a few occasions (my students would probably tell you on a lot of occasions) watching them pour their hearts into something and reap the benefits of their hard work. I tell my students often that I will never promise them it will be easy, but I will promise them it will be worth it. We’ve had some really special moments in my time at Craig, and watching the students’ faces light up when something finally “locks” or “clicks” will never get old.
12. The most challenging thing about working with young people is: The week of a full moon. Ask any teacher (it’s a real thing). But really—kids have a lot going on, and getting them in the right mindset for a productive rehearsal is tough many days. Their minds are going a million miles a minute, and getting them to calm down, to forget about all of their worries and to invest themselves fully into a class is tough. But when it happens, oh man ... it’s awesome.
13. Favorite ice cream flavor: Chocolate (with malt flavoring).
14. Have you ever sung karaoke? If so, what is your song of choice? I have sung karaoke maybe a handful of times. “Desperado” by the Eagles fits my vocal range pretty well, so that’s my go-to.
15. If you won the lottery, what is the first thing you would do? I actually planned out what I would do if I won Mega Millions a few months ago: build a new, amazing school for CHS (with an amazing auditorium), invest $100 million to live off of, give a bunch of friends a million bucks, build a giant house and go on a summer-long vacation in Europe. I didn’t win.
16. Name the one item you own that you could not live without: Honestly, my cell phone. There’s so much you can do with it. I can work, play games, watch TV, write notes ... literally anything.
17. There have been musical productions created based on books, albums, TV shows and movies. If you could create your own “(Blank): The Musical,” what would it be? “The Office: The Musical.” It probably wouldn’t translate very well to the stage, but hey, people invested in “Spiderman the Musical,” so you never know.
18. If you like to cook/bake, what do you consider your specialty? I am a bad cook. I make a mean frozen pizza, though. My favorite meal is definitely Buffalo Wild Wings (and that will not surprise anyone who knows me ... or the staff at BWW).
19. When you go to the grocery store, what item always goes into your cart whether you need it or not? Fudge-dipped granola bars. I don’t know what it is about them, but they are so good (and healthy because it’s granola, right?).
20. Can you describe the feeling you get when an inexperienced performer finds his or her “voice” onstage? This is literally the best feeling. It’s double the amount of pride—you’re proud of the performer for working hard at the skill, and you’re proud of yourself for coaching them through it. I recently had a student tell me after singing a solo that he never felt more confident than in that moment. That’s the reason why we do what we do—for those kinds of moments.