Joe Miller, the founder of the Lakewood Ranch Wind Ensemble, inherited his father’s love for music — and for passing it on.
Legacy means everything to Joe Maciariello Miller, who can trace his family ties and his life in music all the way back to the old country.
Miller, the founder of the Lakewood Ranch Wind Ensemble, has been playing cornet since he was a child. He was trained by his father, Chris Miller, who in turn had been trained by an Italian musician named Fred Amodeo.
Amodeo, the leader of the community band in Mechanicville, N.Y., became a huge influence in the lives of the Millers, who would both ultimately inherit the band from him. And, with the band, they also inherited a treasury of sheet music, a snare drum and a set of cymbals.
“Traditionally, the guy who conducts the band was a cornet player because you could play and conduct at the same time if you were performing a march,” says Miller. “You had to have the music and you had to have the bass drum and cymbals. That had to be in your bailiwick to be the leader. And when you passed, the next cornet player stepped up.”
Chris Miller led the Mechanicville City Band for three decades, and he instilled a lifelong love of music in his son. But that love didn’t come immediately. Joe Miller says that, until he reached a level of proficiency, it wasn’t fun.
“It was tough. I hated it at first. He was demanding and made me memorize everything. And part of it was having me sing,” says Miller of his father. “I realized later that was all part of my musical development.” After six months of daily practice, Miller finally started to understand his father’s passion for music and performance. “Once I could play, I started enjoying it. And one day it just happened — a real aha moment — and then I couldn’t get enough of it.”
Miller was 12 years old when he joined the Mechanicville City Band. A lifetime as a professional musician and educator is where he was headed — but that didn’t happen right away. After high school, he earned a bachelor’s in mathematics and physics from Siena College in 1964, and a master’s in physics from SUNY Albany in 1965. He then spent seven years working for General Electric in various positions. Additionally, while at GE, he earned a master’s in operations research/statistics from Union College in 1969. In 1972 he left GE to work on his doctorate in systems engineering at Union College, where he was an adjunct professor of operations research and statistics for 11 years, from 1972 to 1983. In 1975, he switched careers and went into music education. (He retired from teaching in 1998 at the age of 56.) When his father died in 1987, Miller inherited the band’s treasury of sheet music and its drums.
But that wasn’t all he inherited. Miller inherited a passion to keep the music going — and to create a band of his own. He founded the Capitol Region Wind Ensemble in 1994, and it still exists to this day. Ten years later, he and his wife of 58 years, Madeline, moved to Venice, where he performed with the Venice Symphony Orchestra and founded the Venice Circus Band.
He happily remained in Venice for 15 years, living a life filled with music until 2019, when he and Madeline moved to Lakewood Ranch. That’s when he began to plant the seeds for the Lakewood Ranch Wind Ensemble. Miller hand-selected some of the top players in the region to audition. From the start, he set the bar high, which served as a natural filter for who made the grade. “This area is home to outstanding musicians who have had notable careers and those were the musicians I was looking for,” he says. Miller explains that the band comprises 40 musicians and has had about 60 members in rotation at different times.
The Lakewood Ranch Wind Ensemble gave its premiere performance in November 2019 to an audience of 300 people at Our Lady of the Angels Church Hall in Lakewood Ranch. Miller was thrilled that the celebrated composer and pianist Dick Hyman was in the audience to hear his composition “Down Home Melody,” which was performed during the concert.
When COVID-19 hit, the new band lost its 2020 and 2021 seasons, but Miller says it’s finally hitting its stride in 2022. In the past several months, the ensemble has grown and deepened its roster. It now calls Peace Presbyterian Church in Lakewood Ranch its full-time home and gives five performances annually there. In the past several months, the ensemble performed at the Sarasota Opera House for the Choral Artists of Sarasota’s “American Fanfare” July Fourth concert and at the Memorial Day Concert at the Sarasota National Cemetery, along with two concerts at Peace Presbyterian. Miller says the group will perform five concerts in the 2022-2023 season.
Miller, who has been playing the horn for 70 years, finally feels like he’s in the right place.
He has a crack group of musicians hungry to reach a high level of artistry, and he’s made his father proud by always remembering his roots in music. The sheet music passed down from Fred Amodeo? Well, it’s still being used by the wind ensemble all these years later.
“I’ve always felt I had an obligation to pass the music on,” says Miller. “My father’s love of music has traveled with me throughout my life, and it’s a joy to bring that to others.” Miller pauses and then reflects on how far he’s come since he was that 10-year-old boy learning from his father.
Has he mastered his craft?
“Mastery is a moving target,” he says. “Every time I pick up the horn and play it, I learn something new. And anybody that’s worth their salt, they’ll tell you the same thing. We’re always learning.”
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