I was fascinated by a New York Times account of the artistic life of Mitch Miller, who passed away recently at the age of 99. What an incredibly long and rich creative career he forged for himself! He excelled in virtually every aspect of his industry, first as a gifted oboist and orchestra member and later as an innovative arranger, studio executive, TV personality, and pioneering music producer.
What struck me most about Miller’s life was the enormous energy and inventiveness he brought to his work. He seemed to constantly be exploring different aspects of music and pushing the envelope of his own creativity. In some instances, he revitalized old standards; in others, he created unconventional arrangements that turned singers like Tony Bennett into overnight sensations. And at the other extreme, he pioneered crossovers from country to pop and technical innovations like multiple sound tracks. He also conceived the popular “Sing Along With Mitch” series and TV show.
As writers, there’s a lot we can learn from Miller. First, he was game for just about anything: he started out as a musician and used his training as a springboard for exploring many facets of music. Second, he was bold and inventive: he wasn’t afraid to experiment and try something totally fresh, but he also saw the value of making the old new again. And finally, he was willing to go out on a limb to stretch himself creatively; when he took a flyer because of a risky move, he just picked himself up and kept going.
All of which made for a rewarding artistic life. “What pleased me most,” Miller said in one interview, “was a fellow who came up to me after a concert in Chicago and said, ‘You know, there’s nobody in this whole country who hasn’t been touched by your music in some way.’ That really made me feel good.”
As an artist, what more could you ask for than this? So let’s take a tip from Mitch and “follow the bouncing ball” — who knows where it will lead us?