George Washington Miller
1874 - 1964
George Miller was a pioneer music teacher at Walla Walla College, now University. Born in Milton-Freewater, Oregon, he began his music study at Healdsburg College, now Pacific Union College, in 1892 at age seventeen. A dashing and happy-go-lucky teenager with a handlebar mustache, he was what was referred to in that innocent age as a "gay blade." The following year he enrolled at WWC, where he immediately established the George Miller Cornet Band, a group of twenty students, that though operating on the campus was totally independent.
The band became very popular with the students and the community. Although they played only marches and similar types of music, the faculty viewed the group as problematic and their rehearsals as a frivolous use of time. There were a number of clashes over the band for several years, even after Miller became a faculty member in the music department.
Attitudes on the campus towards Sabbath activities at that time are best described by an incident that happened in the spring of 1894. Miller was in his room on the fourth floor of the dormitory one Sabbath afternoon when, for want of something to do, he took out his cornet and started playing Nearer My God to Thee. The windows were open and the sound could be heard all over campus. The president of the college, E. A. Sutherland, ran up the steps and pounded on the door. When Miller opened it, Sutherland, irate and out of breath, told Miller, "I never want to hear you playing that thing again on the Sabbath!"
Miller started teaching at the college part-time, without pay, in 1895. He continued to direct the band during these years, buying music with 50c donations from interested faculty and persons in the community. On one occasion, he approached the president of the college, who rebuffed him with the comment that he wasn't sure this was a good cause since it might lead the boys away from the Adventist faith.
Four years later he was hired full time and given a salary. A cornet player and pianist, he felt strongly that instrumental music other than reed organ should be allowed for church and chapel. From his first year as a student at WWC he had tried to convince the faculty to allow instruments to play voluntaries and join with the singing of hymns.
Finally, after two years of cajoling and reasoning, he submitted an essay presenting evidence from the Bible and the writings of Ellen White that supported his view. The faculty was convinced and, in 1895, the year he began teaching music part-time, they allowed his brass quartet to play for church services, a first in the five Adventist colleges that existed at that time in the U.S.
Miller, who married Lulu Hill in 1896, taught music and led the department from 1899 until 1902, when he left to work in the family nursery in nearby Milton-Freewater. After he left, the band, which was led by a rapid succession of directors in the next five years, became fiercely independent, operating outside the school's jurisdiction. This led to a move by the College Board in August 1907 to approach the band's officers to see if they would unite with other students on campus and become part of a group under the control of the school. Board minutes from a meeting in September 1908 record that "resolution of the band problem" had finally just been achieved with the hiring of Miller to again direct the group.
Lulu Miller joined the WWC faculty as art teacher in 1924 and would hold that position until 1952, when she retired. Both she and George played alto horns in the WWC band for many years. They had one child, Gerita Hannah Miller.
The Millers were living in Milton-Freewater, Oregon, when he died at age 89.
Sources: Interview with Lulu Hill Miller by Ivan Zbaraschuk, published in the WWC Collegian, 25 October 1962; “Golden Wedding Celebrated by Mr. and Mrs. George W. Miller, Who Began Careers Here; One Remains on College Faculty,” Collegian, August or September 1946; Melvin S. Hill, A History of Music Education in Seventh-day Adventist Western Colleges, a dissertation submitted by Hill in June 1959 to the University of Southern California, 113-116 (E.A. Sutherland incident), based on an interview by Hill with Miller; Dan Shultz, A Great Tradition, Music at Walla Walla College, 1892-1992, 16-19, 23; 1910 U.S. Federal Census Records; One World Tree, Ancestory.com. Obituaries, North Pacific Union Gleaner, 2 October 1964, 7; Review and Herald, 4 February 1965.