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A Career of Teaching Music Ends on a Happy Note
Written by Kelly Chandler Staff Writer

Sandy Miller will officially be retiring from teaching music this month and said she hopes to spend more time with her grandchildren, crafting, and possibly traveling to Mexico again where she spent summers teaching children English through music. 

        Spend a few moments inside Sandy Miller's living room and you'll understand what fills her heart.

        Hand-sewn black and white piano key curtains adorn the windows.  A music note throw sits atop a high back chair next to a stately upright piano.  A coaster on a nearby table is shaped like a baby grand.

        But more than that are the hundreds of smiling faces on her walls.  They are the faces of her students over 43 years of teaching voice, piano, keyboard and accordion.

        "My love for teaching has kept me doing it for so long," she said.  "I love to teach and I love students whether it be 3- or 4-year-olds or grandparents.  Everyone in between, everyone presents something different.  And I enjoy that."

        The 60-something grandmother of four has decided to make this year's recital, scheduled for Dec. 27 at 7 p.m. at Community Bible Fellowship Church in Red Hill, her last.  It is free and open to the public.  It was a heartbreaking decision, she said, as tears welled up in her eyes.

        "When I close up the studio I will be brokenhearted," she noted.  "I have a lot of fond memories of so many students.  It tickles my fancy that years later people still recognize me as their or their children's teacher. To know I'm fondly remembered after all those years."    

        Miller has put her home up for sale and will be retiring her business, Sandy's Keyboard Studio, which she started back in 1972. 

        She originally went out on her own then thanks to the urging of her own voice teacher as she graduated with a music degree from the former United Wesleyan College in Allentown.

        Initially she went out to her clients' homes but, when she moved into her current home in East Greenville in 1986, she transformed her living room into her studio and had her students come to her for the private lessons.  The room is outfitted with a microphone, music stand and monitor/amplifier, along with two pianos, a small one for children and a bigger one that hails from the former Ebeneezer EC Church in East Greenville.

        Her students come to her at all different levels.  Some are proficient at their art; others, she said, with a laugh, can't carry a tune.

        "I've had students who couldn't follow a note, and I've worked with them until they could sing a melody.  All students are a challenge and I try to find out where they're at to work with them on their specific desire to succeed.

        "Some adults come to me to sing in their choir or cantata, some women just don't want their husband or children to hear them sing in church and say they can't carry a tune in a bucket…My joy comes from seeing the so-to-speak lightbulb go on when they get it.  My joy is to see a student who wouldn't otherwise have been taken by another teacher, that wouldn't have the consideration of someone who loves it.  And I do take students that other teachers didn't want." 

        Many of Miller's students have gone on to perform in their school musical productions or with the Red Hill Band, at the Dutch Country Playhouse in Telford, study at Lehigh Valley Charter High School for Performing Arts and top conservatories across the country.  Some continue to play or perform decades after learning from Miller.

        And while she hasn't had any accordion students in a long time, according to her since "Weird Al [Yankovic] and [Steve] Urkel were in their prime," she enjoys all aspects of music and tries to stress a theory-based piano education.

        On her wall, near the smaller of the two pianos, she keeps a paper posted on the benefits of music.

        "Music goes a long way, it carries on well beyond.  There are so many benefits," she said.  "Music is a science, it's mathematical, it's a foreign language, it's history, physical education, an art. It really is.  You use small [fine] motor coordination.  A lot of the students who have trouble in school have trouble with small motor coordination.  It helps with reading.  It's so good in so many areas.

        "If a student can master music they can master almost anything."

        Miller said another positive that comes from learning the art is that students gain self-worth.

        "They are able to have more confidence in school and do better in school.  This is my joy; I guess you see it beaming from me.  These are the things I love doing."

        She said she hopes to see some of her 560 past students at the last recital, which will feature a "surprise" theme.  Miller said she won't know which  pieces her current students are learning and will perform and they will pick from a hat to determine order.  Past recitals, performed everywhere from Hereford to Red Hill, took place each spring with a specific theme.

        She stressed that the recitals aren't a competition but a chance for students to practice performing.  There are no mistakes.  She wants each one to simply have a good experience. 

        "They are my life.  All my students are like my children," she said.   "To see them achieve their goals is a blessing."





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