I think it's beautiful when we celebrate someone's life through music. But when Heath Miller, the director of bands at Tulsa Memorial High School, asked me to write a piece of music that celebrated the life of his late younger brother, I couldn't help but feel a little unqualified. I never personally knew Heath's brother, Evan, and Heath and I had only exchanged a few e-mails before I began working on the piece. How could I hope to write an honest piece of music without having ever met the person whose spirit the music was supposed to capture?
Heath writes of his brother, "ever since we were little, and I mean 3-4 years old, we have been in one musical ensemble or another. Our mother was a choir director at the church we attended growing up, and we sang in every level of choir we could throughout our lives. He was always a little bit better than I was, though. He was in the Oklahoma City Boys Choir, me... not so much. When we were in elementary school, we were the weird kids who liked music class better than PE. Once we got to junior high we joined band as 7th graders (me first, then my brother 4 years later). We were in band all through junior high and high school (I was a horn player, he played saxophones of various sizes). He loved, loved, band.
"When I went to the University of Tulsa and became a music education major, he decided that he needed to 'follow in my footsteps', so to speak, and go to Tulsa as well to be an instrumental and vocal education major. This was a recurring theme with him.
"When he dropped out and travelled around the Florida Keys for a little while, he took the saxophone with him and kept playing. He started working as a crew member on sailing ships and took his saxophone on cruises. Once he joined the Navy, he still kept the saxophone and would 'jam' with his buddies at the base. No matter what he was doing, he loved music and wanted it to be a part of his life."
I had just started to read Jack Kerouac's On the Road (1957) when I first began writing Camerado. On its own page, just after the book's dedication and just before the title page, is a quote from Walt Whitman's poem Song of the Open Road (1856):
Camerado, I give you my hand!
I give you my love more precious than money,
I give you myself before preaching or law;
Will you give me yourself? will you come travel with me?
Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?
The poem in its entirety deeply reminded me of the story Heath had shared with me, of the path Evan took in grade school and college journeying down the same road as his older brother, of Evan's "irresistible call" to escape Oklahoma for the Florida Keys and of his life in the Navy where he would undoubtably sail literal "pathless and wild seas." I began to better understand how music had been omnipresent in Evan's life, and more importantly how it had also been (and continues to be) the binding element between himself and his brother. Finally I felt like I had found an honest sentiment for the piece — a piece that celebrates brotherhood, camaraderie, exploring new worlds and throwing one's self into the open arms of Adventure, "forever alive, forever forward."
Heath Miller, for the Tulsa Memorial High School Band,
in loving memory of his brother, Ensign Evan Walling Miller.