Band director inspires students to perform

Todd Miller's focus was set early on because "I had very good elementary and middle school band programs when I was growing up." Thus, "I'd always wanted to be a band director since 6th grade," he says.As band director at West Middle School, Miller has recently, during the past March weekends alone: 1) Had his 8-member saxophone section win an Outstanding Section Award at the Brookhurst Jazz Festival in Anaheim, where two of his band members, Jakob Miller (no relation) and Osvaldo Zarate, won Outstanding Soloist Awards, Jakob for bass and Osvaldo for tenor sax; 2) his 50-member wind ensemble received a "superior" rating at the Mayfair High School festival in Lakewood, qualifying the group for the May 5 regionals; 3) his 22-member jazz band garnered an "excellent" rating at the South Hills High School Festival in Covina; 4) his beginning band was ranked "excellent" while his tour band won a "superior" rating at the Don Lugo High School Festival in Chino; and 5) his symphonic band took an 'excellent' rating at the Baldwin Park High School Festival. (These are all part of the Southern California band and orchestra association festivals swing held every year.) Then during spring break, he took the entire 164-member band to San Francisco for the Heritage Festival, where 20 bands in all took part. At the aforementioned May 5 Regional Festival that took place at Kennedy High School in La Palma, the band's wind ensemble got two excellent and two superior ratings. "What this means is that the kids are really working hard, and they are constantly improving," Miller says. "The group is getting larger and stronger. Next year, we should have 200 kids in the band." West principal Craig Bertsch gushes at Miller's impact, saying, "He has brought us back to prominence and, most importantly, built a huge part of the West culture." Born in San Diego and a product of Escondido High School, Miller obtained his BA in music education from Cal State Northridge in 1987 and began his career as band director at Warren High School. He would at the same time teach at West Middle. Then in 1992, he left DUSD and taught for fourteen years at Edgewood Middle School in West Covina but would come back to West in 2008. He has nothing but kind words and appreciation for the "wonderful support in many ways "he has enjoyed from the kids' parents and the solid encouragement from the district. "You will find AP kids mixing with special ed kids in the band," he says. "These kids in the band come from every level, but their common denominator is they are bright and hardworking." He goes on: "Indeed, I am proud to say that I've had former students enroll at the prestigious L.A. County High School for the Arts, and over the years I count about 19 students of mine enroll, say, at the Manhattan School of Music, or at Cal State Long Beach, or wherever. They're all over the place, their music training and experience here giving them a headstart." Other major performances during the year were their winter (Dec. 10) and spring concerts (May 12), while the band highlighted Honors Night on Monday at the First Baptist Church, in honor of students who have won distinctions and scholarships, etc. The band's last scheduled performance is on campus June 16, to celebrate the students' promotion to their next grade levels. There are other lesser, but no less important, performances by Miller's band. Just last May 19, the jazz ensemble, along with West's drama group, went to the Southland Convalescent Home in Norwalk to perform for 95-year old Emma "Tiny" Hobson. Phil Davis, who knew her while he was principal at West and is now support programs administrator at the district, said the school kind of adopted her as a mascot at the time, as she lived in the back of the school and would pick up trash, etc., on site. So Wednesday was a way of honoring her, who is believed to have no close relatives to care for her. "We were there to cheer her up," said Davis. As Miller says, "While we have fun playing all kinds of music, we'd just as soon share it, too."

********** Published: May 28, 2010 - Volume 9 - Issue 6