Colo. bass Miller trades pigskin for performing
BRECKENRIDGE – This is a story of the road not taken – a detour from football to the footlights.Our story begins in the little town of Ovid, Colo., population a little over 300. A few years ago, a young high school football player named Keith Miller made his mark by helping his team to win the state championships three times in a row. He was awarded a football scholarship at the University of Colorado, where he became the starting fullback. Football scouts soon discovered Keith Miller, and it looked like a major career was beckoning. Miller spent five years playing professionally in arena football, as well as playing on reserve rosters and in workout camps with the Broncos and the Raiders. But Miller felt that something was missing.”I always felt like I was misplaced inside,” he said. “I felt like I should be doing something that I can do better than anyone. The last thing you want to do is something that everyone else can do just as well.”One night, a girlfriend of Miller’s took him to a performance of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera.” Miller was overwhelmed by the music, the passion, and the theatrics. He went straight back to the music library at CU and checked out an opera – Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.”
“It was one of the greatest things I’ve ever heard in my life,” he recalled. “I was singing along, even though my Italian pronunciation was horrible. But I could see that real opera was even more serious, more passionate.”Arena football took Miller to such far-flung locales as Helsinki, where between games he would visit historic cathedrals – and practice singing in them. As much as he loved football, opera was beginning to take over. At a time when he was working out with the Broncos and playing better than ever before, he saw a casting call for the Pine Mountain Music Festival in Michigan. On a whim, he showed up for the audition with the one aria he knew – and was offered the role of Masetto in his beloved “Don Giovanni,” as well as a position in the young artists program.Miller had to make a decision. His car was packed. The Broncos had a receiver position open and waiting for him. But on that day, Miller officially retired from football – and has never looked back.”Looking back now, I know that this was something I was always supposed to do,” he said.Even though he had no vocal training, Miller was cast in one opera after another. In his spare time, he taught himself to read music and listened to as many of the great singers as he could. Eventually he found himself auditioning for famed vocal coach Bill Schumann, who helped Miller into the prestigious Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia, where he is completing his fourth year. Schumann remains Miller’s vocal coach to this day.Miller feels that, as an opera singer, he is able to leave his mark for more than he could have as a football player.
“Football is the most cutthroat business there is,” he said. “I would go into a camp and there would be four fullbacks and they would only keep one or two. I’ve seen people get cut the same day for having a bad game. You’re treated like a machine.”As for the stability of an operatic career, particularly in the United States where opera performances rank much lower in the popularity poll than football games, Miller is optimistic and feels that people are coming back to the sometimes-neglected art form.”I recently saw a fabulous production of ‘Falstaff’ at the Metropolitan Opera with Bryn Terfel,” he said. “When I saw it I said, ‘That’s the Met. That’s what’s supposed to go on.’ As long as there is a place where people are making art like that, the future of opera is bright.”There’s a whole generation that has missed out on this – there was all of this other stuff going on,” he continued. “But I think that now, a lot of people want to come back to it, to operas like ‘La Bohème.’ There’s still that mystique, that integrity, to opera. It’s like watching an indie movie.”Upcoming performances include a Beethoven “Missa Solemnis” in Ontario, as well as a “La Bohème” back in the U.S.At 32, Miller is still considered young in his profession – another advantage over football. “I love being a bass,” he laughed. “When I’m 60, I’ll still be singing well.”
And as for the road not taken?”I have no regrets,” said Miller. “Because of the breaks that I’ve been given from day one, I feel that I’m luckier than anyone else out there.”Miller’s OperaBass Keith Miller, with pianist Debra Ayers, will perform in a recital series throughout western Colorado. March 10-16. The recital will include works by Vaughan Williams, Mozart, Verdi and Handel, as well as songs from Broadway. Performances are: March 10 at 7 p.m. at Colorado Mountain College’s Spring Valley Center at Glenwood Springs, March 12 at 3 p.m. at the Salida Steam Plant Theater Performing Arts Center, March 15 at 7 p.m. at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Breckenridge and March 16 at 7 p.m. at St. Mary’s Church in Rifle. For ticket information, go to http://www.cmccearts.org or call the box office at (970) 453-9142.
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