In conversation with Jared Miller

Graham Sommer Competition Finalist Jared Miller talks about first rehearsals, the value of making mistakes, and the place nostalgia holds in his compositions.

Earliest musical memory?

Watching the original Fantasia when I was three and being fascinated with the music but simultaneously being scared of the sorcerer in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” and hiding under a blanket whenever he was on screen. The blanket had holes in it though, so I could peek at TV screen while still feeling protected from the scary sorcerer!   

What are the themes that inspire you most in your music?     

It really depends on the piece. Some of my past pieces have addressed themes such as climate change, my own cultural heritage and family history as an Ashkenazi Jew, and more generally, nostalgia. Other pieces are much more about creating a distinct sound world. Recently, I’ve been experimenting with creating and reimagining different delay effects through orchestration and it’s been a lot of fun! My piece for the Graham Sommer Competition begins this way, but then kind of takes off in its own direction.   

Is there a moment that brought you to now, being a composer — one that changed your course or confirmed it? 

I wanted to be a composer since I started piano lessons at age 7, but I think my passion was truly ignited in the eighth grade. I decided to take some time off from piano but realized just how much I missed it when it wasn’t in my life. So, from the age of 13 onward, I worked tirelessly to learn as much as could about being a composer and haven’t looked back for a second.     

What are the 5 words you would use to describe your compositional style?    

Depends on the piece but: Atmospheric, Effervescent, Playful, Sentimental, Nostalgic   

If you had a mantra/philosophy/phrase for where you are right now, what would it be?     

Be kind to yourself. 

What do you find the most rewarding about composing? What’s the toughest?    

I love going to a first rehearsal. It’s always so electrifying and exciting to hear your piece played by real musicians for the first time! I also love getting a recording at the end of it all and being able to enjoy listening to my own work without the pressure of a live performance. In terms of the toughest, I’m definitely an extrovert and being a composer involves thousands of hours working in solitude. All of this alone time can be very draining for me. But, I’m also fortunate to have amazing friends with whom I can spend time after I’m done composing for the day, so I’m able to get my energy back!

What would be excited to see or hear more of in the field of composition?   

I’m incredibly excited to hear what young composers will be doing twenty years from now. I am fortunate to teach many children right now who will be in their twenties and thirties in two decades, and I am so curious to see where they will be creatively when they are my age right now.

What would you like the audience to walk away with after hearing your piece in the finals?   

I hope that they will have been taken on some kind of emotional journey. My piece doesn’t really have any specific extra-musical inspiration behind it, but rather, has a musical idea travel to many different sonic/emotional worlds. Also, I’m confident that the audience will be impressed with the amazing Graham Sommer Trio’s interpretation of my piece and the others. They are all such good players and I can’t wait to meet them and start working with them in real life in Montreal!  

Any advice (or cautions?!) to future composers out there?

I would advise composers – especially student composers – to never be afraid of making mistakes. There’s so much emphasis in music education these days on “being perfect and polished” – whatever that means – but the fact is that young composers have their whole lives/careers to be perfect and polished. It is a luxury as a student to be able to explore, create and make mistakes, and then learn from them!   

What would winning the Graham Sommer Competition enable you to do?   

Whenever an opportunity like the GSC comes along for me, I rarely think about winning actually. I’m more focused on the exciting collaborative experience I will be able to have with the musicians, creating and sharing a piece together. I’m also excited to meet and make memories with my fellow competitors and the musicians in Montreal for ten days. After 18 or so months in lockdown, this is what I’ve been looking forward to most of all!   

All of this said, the very generous investment of the Graham Sommer Competition has so far helped me pay down my student loans and so I’ll probably continue to do that if I end up winning some prize money. Not luxurious or flashy, but definitely a huge relief!

Audio icon Jared Miller | Absolute

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