Harlen Irvin Miller
1948 - 2020
Although Harlen Miller, choir director and singer, retired in 2014 after teaching for 42 years, he continued to be active until the time of his death on December 18, 2020. A 1972 B.A. graduate in music from Walla Walla College, now University, he last taught at Napa Christian Campus of Education, a Seventh-day Adventist K-12 school, formerly known as Napa Junior Academy, where he directed the choir, handbell choir, and band and taught Spanish. During his eight years at NCCE he also conducted the Harlen Miller Chorale, an independent ensemble known previously as the Norman Skeels Chorale, and was music director of the Napa Valley Lutheran Church.
Harlen was born on Sptember 11, 1948, in Santurce, Puerto Rico to missionary parents, Harvey and Helen Edwards Miller. He sang in his father's choirs and played piano all through childhood. When he attended Newbury Park Academy in 1962, he continued study in piano and sang in the academy choir under the direction of Carolyn Rhodes Brummett.
Following graduation from NPA in 1966, He attended Pacific Union College for a year and then spent a year at Montemorelos University in Mexico. Because there wasn't a choir at MU, he organized and directed one that became an important part of life in his year at the school. The pleasure and fulfillment he found in directing that group led to a decision to pursue a career in choral music.
Miller enrolled at Walla Walla College in 1968 as a music major, studying voice with Harold Lickey and William Murphy and singing in their choirs. He married Lorna Jean Darnell on December 21, 1969. He majored in theory, studying with Glenn Spring and Mel West, and continued study on piano with Jeanette McGhee. He also completed a minor in Spanish, graduating in 1972.
His first position was at Antillian Union College in Puerto Rico, where he taught for four years. On his return to the States in the summer of 1976, Miller enrolled at Westminster Choir College, starting work on a master's degree that summer and continuing through the end of the next summer. He accepted a position as choir director at Indiana Academy In 1977, where, in his two years there, he completed an M.A. in conducting at Ball State University in 1979.
That fall, he began teaching at Orangewood Academy in California, where he worked until 1982. He then taught music at East Brazil Academy for the next five years. Miller later wrote about that experience:
I directed four choirs and taught lessons and music classes at East Brazil Academy, a K-11 school (there is no 12th grade in Brazilian high schools) located an hour north of Rio de Janiero. The music program at EBA was run by the Conservatorio de Musica and was an adjunct to the regular school curriculum. Our music program, like most in the country, was accredited by a national conservatory, of which there were two, both located in nearby Rio.
Choirs and choir festivals are an important part of civic life in Brazil, sponsored by communities, banks, industries and companies. Teaching there was an incredible experience, the richest I have ever had. Had it not been for a family medical emergency back in the States, we would have continued there until I retired.
Upon his return to the U.S., Miller directed the choral program at Rio Lindo Academy in California. During his eight years at RLA, he served as an adjunct teacher at Santa Rosa Community College for a semester in the 1993-1994 school year when its choir director was on sabbatical. He enjoyed the experience of directing SRCC's two choirs and the community choir that was usually conducted by the college's director. At this time he organized and directed the Harlen Miller Chorale.
In 1996 Miller became director of choirs, strings, and orchestra at Shenandoah Valley Academy in Virginia, staying there for a decade. He enjoyed traveling with his school groups and toured in the U.S. and Europe. While at SVA, he also served as conductor/artistic director of the Masterworks Chorus of the Shenandoah Valley and founded and directed the VesperSingers in New Market.
Miller then lived in Phoenix, Arizona, where he sang in community groups and commuted to Napa, California, on a bi-monthly basis where he continued to conduct the HMC and was music director of the Napa Valley Lutheran Church. Throughout his career he was active as a church choir director on Sundays, serving in several denominations. Additionally, he served as a guest conductor and presenter in choral workshops in the U.S. and internationally.
Miller was living in Broadway, Virginia, when he died from cancer at age 72. He was survived by his wife, Lorna Jean; two sons, Thomas and Timothy; a daughter, Teri Halsey; and two brothers, Fred and Don.
Sources: Information provided by Harlen Miller, 2007 and October 2015; Online sources; personal knowledge; https://www.legacy.com/obituarie: Northern Virginia Dailey, December 21, 2020.