Visiting banjo player and acclaimed musician Michael Miles will perform his compositions with the Villanova Orchestra and Jazz Band this Saturday at a Groundhog Day concert.
“I’m really looking forward to performing at Villanova,” Miles said. “I love working with students and I love sharing my passion for music. The concert will be a Villanova first, and it will be great for people to experience music they never heard before.”
In addition to playing the banjo, Miles plays guitar, sings, composes and teaches. He taught at Villanova’s summer music program for music educators for more than 20 years, and music has always been an indispensable part of his life. Miles said he began studying the guitar when he was 11 years old and later taught himself the banjo in college.
“There are so many amazing guitar players,” he said. “You think you come up with something new, but you just do a Google search and find that someone has already done it faster and better. But the banjo world is smaller, and I found that the instrument was great for exploring other possibilities and contexts.”
Miles attributes his unique banjo style in part to his upbringing in Chicago.
“When most people think about the banjo they relate it to bluegrass or folk music, but my music isn’t steeped in that southern style,” he said.
Miles’ musical repertoire reflects this variety of style. He recorded the Bach Cello suites for banjo, for example, and also composed the pieces he will be playing with the orchestra and jazz band with distinctive rhythms and intriguing inspiration.
“Look out the window or listen to the room. Inspiration can come from anywhere,” he said.
Miles exemplified his perspective on inspiration by explaining how the inspiration for one of the pieces he will be performing with the Villanova orchestra, “Yellowbird Suite,” came from an unexpected source. He said he was working in his office one day and heard knocking at his window. When he first opened the curtain he said he discovered nothing, but eventually after the knocking continued he found that a yellow finch was causing the clamor. Miles said he later discovered that the bird was a male finch and was knocking on the window because the bird saw his own reflection and thought it was another bird.
“The finch was letting his reflection know that he was boss,” Miles said with a laugh.
Mile said the bird continued to come back every day, and he eventually decided to compose a suite based on his encounters with this bird.
“There’s such grace and unpredictability in flight, and I wanted to capture that in this piece,” Miles said about “Yellowbird Suite.”
Miles said he finds joy and inspiration in teaching as well. He has a taught a number of different seminars and classes for students of all ages, and elaborated upon one of his favorite teaching experiences. According to Miles, he was teaching a fifth grade class recently and one girl asked him where his songs come from. He said he was so surprised at the curiosity of the girl and the insightful question.
“I love to share the joy that I have been able to find for myself with others,” he said. “I’m happy I can fill my day with sound and exploration of music.”
While Miles believes in the importance of sharing music with others, music is also deeply personal for him.
“Music is a way of expressing who I am and of finding a means of emotional expression,” he said. “Music is everywhere, and it’s my charge to create a channel through which people can receive it.”
Everyone can experience music through Miles’ channel at The Groundhog Day concert on Saturday, Feb. 2 at 7:30 p.m. in St. Mary’s Chapel. Tickets are 10 dollars for adults and five dollars for Villanova students, faculty and staff. Children can attend for free.
By JEN BRADLEY ’13