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Alexander Miller - Oboe


Your name:

Alexander (“Ale”) Miller


Your instrument/position in the orchestra:

Assistant Principal Oboe, also a frequent composer


How old were you when you started playing your instrument?

8 years old.



Bloomfield Hills, Michigan


When did you join the orchestra (year):




1-3 - Scotch College (Australia)

3-6 - Campo Alegre (Venezuela)

7-12 - Cranbrook Kingswood ’86 (Michigan)

B.M. - Juilliard ‘90

M.M. - Juilliard ‘92


What made you choose your instrument?

I picked it out of a book because of how it looked. I had no idea what it would sound like.


In a few words or sentences, how would you describe yourself?

People see me as a jester, but at heart I’m pretty serious, quiet, always thinking. Half of me performs and the other half composes. I am deeply in love with my wife of 14 years, GRS violist Mary Jane Miller. I have a rare recurring brain tumor that has been resected twice already, so I am always vigilant with meds, hormones, blood tests and MRIs. Modern medicine allows me to live normally so I can be a good husband and enjoy full workloads as oboist and composer. I am grateful for second chances.


Favorite saying or motto:

Y.O.L.O. (You Only Live Once)


Pet peeve:

Apostrophes incorrectly added to plural words (“these boot’s are made for walking”), or the proper use of “its” (possessive) versus “it’s” (a contraction of “it is"). Also, I cringe every time I hear, “Like I said.” It's incorrect. “As I said” is correct because “like” is a preposition and “as” is a conjunction. Don’t even get me started on reality show contestants mangling personal pronouns: “Her and I went to the beach,” etc..  Me is the grammar police.


Most memorable moment in the orchestra:

The world premiere of “Madame Bovary.” Experiences like that are why I have devoted my life to music, in a nutshell.



Great writing. Beautiful sentences. Gustave Flaubert, Truman Capote, Virginia Woolf, Charles Bukowski. The density of their prose is economical to such a degree that images vividly spring to life. When Capote writes that someone "looked as lonely and inappropriate as a seagull in a wheat field,” that kind of sentence will hover in my imagination for days. Flaubert’s great novel inspired my cello concerto. In it, Emma Bovary muses that “love must come suddenly, with great thunderclaps and bolts of lightning,—a hurricane from heaven that drops down on your life, overturns it, tears away your will like a leaf, and carries your whole heart off with it into the abyss.” I mean, how could you not love a sentence like that? It’s far out.


Favorite Movie and/or TV Show:

TV is very good right now. We watch any subject matter as long as it boils down to compelling storytelling about genuine human issues — Breaking Bad, Downton Abbey, Sons of Anarchy, Mad Men, Girls, True Detective, Fargo. Those are all almost perfectly constructed story lines, and so very well done with their distinctive styles. As long as the perspective from which the story unfolds resonates as a universal human dilemma, I am interested. We also like reality shows like The Amazing Race, Big Brother, and The Bachelor[ette]. Their formats have matured, and they can be very entertaining.


With film, I admire Almodovar, Haneke, Kubrick, Sofia Coppola, Bergman, Fellini, the Coen brothers, etc.. In other words, directors that leave their stamp like composers, an expression from a singular voice. I love it when a movie will stay with you for days, even if disturbingly so. Some of my favorites are “Caché”, “Run Lola Run”, “Lost in Translation”, “The Shining”, “La Strada”, “Pulp Fiction”, “Blood Simple”, “Barton Fink”, “An Affair to Remember”, and “Requiem for a Dream”. My taste in comedy is like a good martini: very dry. The funniest movie I have ever seen is Peter Greenaway’s “Vertical Features Remake.” It is the driest, most stone-faced mockumentary ever filmed.


Who would play you in a movie?

Daniel Craig, obviously. Or (as it has been suggested) the dad from “Alf."


Favorite foods:

Anything simple and delicious, where flavor outweighs the easy-outs of modern cuisine: salt and sugar. We are adventurous eaters, and we even did the live fish thing once. Mary Jane is a fabulous chef. She prepares all the meals. In the summer she tends a garden for herbs and greens, and I forage the woods for mushrooms, ramps, berries, and other wild edibles. MJ makes granola and bread from scratch. I can’t remember the last time we purchased bread in a store.



Crossword puzzles, morel hunting, my brain tumor blog, wine, anagrams, Detroit Lions, modern art, cryptic crosswords, composer biographies, meta-crosswords. Did I mention puzzles?


Bad habit:

Not being timely with email replies. I know it is acceptable to send a quick reply these days (“lol, ttyl’), but I feel the need to craft thoughtful paragraphs. Usually I don’t have time, so emails accumulate and I feel awful. I would have liked it better in the age of quills and wax seals. To send a text, you had to scrawl it on parchment and give it to a guy on a horse. Then it would take the horse a week to come back with a reply parchment: “ROFL."


Most influential teachers:

Mr. Anastos, 4th grade

Mr. Hazard, 10th grade creative writing

Mr. Kelly, 10th grade history

Dr. Roth, 12 grade english

Eric Ewazen and Michael Czajkowski, music theory

Rebecca Scott, ear training

Richard Hervig, orchestration

Joel Sachs, modern music and music history

Elaine Douvas and John Ferrillo, oboe


Last book you read/what are you reading now?

I just finished the Joel Sachs biography of Henry Cowell. He is nearly forgotten as a composer today, a shame. In his day he was on equal footing with Copland, Carter and Varese. Cowell was the first composer to use his forearms on the piano keys. Think about that. Right now I’m reading Maynard Solomon’s biography of Mozart, a thorough psychological analysis that is absolutely fascinating.


Favorite pieces of music:

Caroline Shaw - Partita

David Lang - The Little Match Girl Passion

James MacMillan - Piano Concerto No. 3 ‘Mysteries of Light’

Osvaldo Golijov - AZUL

John Adams - The Dharma at Big Sur

John Corigliano - Symphony No. 2

Steve Reich - Different Trains

Gunther Schuller - Seven Studies on Themes of Paul Klee

Richard Strauss - Der Rosenkavalier

Alban Berg - Wozzeck

Mahler - Symphony No. 9

Wagner - Parsifal

Puccini - La Boheme

Mozart - Mass in C minor

J. S. Bach - The Musical Offering

Ockeghem - Missa Prolationum


Dream vacation/trip:

Mary Jane and I want to take a "family tree” trip where we can more deeply research our roots, going into local archives and putting on those special white gloves. The journey could take us to Germany, Alsace, France, Iceland, Hawaii, Scotland, Ireland, Canada or Virginia.


What is your favorite thing about living in Grand Rapids?

Making a left turn onto 28th Street without a traffic light. It's an eternity of waiting, but there will be a moment where no cars come from either side and you think, “Wait, can this be?” Your pulse quickens as you gun the engine, leaving rubber  to cut that diagonal and thread the needle. It’s perfect, feeling so alive like that on 28th Street.

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