Thursday, October 20th, 2016

Sing along with Mitch no more


Mitch Miller, the conductor that led so many of us to sing along, is dead. He was 99 years old.

I saw Mitch Miller in 1997, shortly after I met my wife. My wife was a member of the Milwaukee Symphony Chorus and Mitch Miller appeared as part of the Pops series to lead us all in Christmas carols. The Lovely Doreen from Waukesha* bought me a Loge seat right on the rail. The Symphony slipped up that evening and there were no music sheets for the audience. Miller plunged on regardless, asking us all to sing along as well as we could. And, of course, we all did.

The Milwaukee Journal review at the time said, “No one puts together a holiday pops concert quite like Mitch Miller. The 86-year-old Miller jogged on stage in Uihlein Hall on Friday evening to lead the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in one of his trademark pops concerts. Playing before a capacity crowd, he blended classics, pop and seasonal carols.

“The great charm of Miller’s presentations in this type of format is his enthusiasm and sincerity.

“Whether explaining and conducting excerpts from Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg’s “The Wizard of Oz” or Bach’s “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring,” Miller treated the music before him with tremendous respect. His insightful introductions were delivered in witty, conversational language.”

My wife would later tease me she could hear my awful voice all the way on the stage, and had me actually believing it. For some reason I still married her. Or you could say, for some reason she still married me, even with my train wreck vocals.

It was a fun evening, one that my wife and I will never forget. For my wife it was one of the more enjoyable performances of her career, and she thought Miller was “a class act,” high praise from her.

By the way, I was trying to remember if they used a bouncing ball that night when I stumbled across this retrospective by NPR. There never was a bouncing ball.

Ms. KAREN HERMAN (Director, Archive of American Television): Talk about the bouncing ball concept.

Mr. MITCH MILLER: Never was a bouncing ball. Everyone says there’s a bouncing ball. We just had the lyrics (unintelligible) you had the two cameras and the stuff in black.

Ms. HERMAN: Why do you think that everybody thinks that there was a bouncing ball?

Mr. MILLER: Because there was in the theater. There was a – when the organ would teach you a new song in theater, the organ would play and there was a bouncing ball. And then there was a cartoon – Looney Tunes and all that, they had a bouncing ball. So people, you know, drew that from their memory.

Bouncing ball or not, Miller had an amazing career entertaining millions. I know it’s July, but let’s sing just one more song.

Mitch Miller, RIP.

*Then, the Lovely Doreen from Milwaukee’s south side
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