No matter the profession, Jazz piano instructor, Mark Miller just cannot seem to get away from home deliveries. The former driver for U.P.S., 53, still makes many home visits, and even goes far beyond the parameters he once had while behind the wheel of the truck. Now, instead of handing over packages at the front door, he goes from country to country, sitting right in living rooms, bringing along his piano lessons via telephone and Skype. Although his teaching career began 30 years ago, he has only taught remotely for a little more than a decade, with lessons spanning more than half the continents of the world.
Regardless of their location, Mr. Miller’s main objective is to give his students knowledge of the piano that will last for an eternity. “I would say that the biggest compliment I can get from a student is that Mark gave me the ability to look at the piano and play the piano creatively, not just play what someone else wrote,” said the Illinois based music teacher. “Playing lifelong is one of the greatest pleasures anyone can have.”
If Mr. Miller is cognizant of what one of his current students said about his teachings, he would probably feel like he is getting his point across. Angela, a Seattle based college professor, who prefers to be mentioned by first name only, began taking lessons 2 years ago, but started playing piano at the age of five. “I think he’s the kind of piano teacher I’ve been looking for my whole life,” Angela, now 42, said. “I think those of us who don’t have some magical talent or gift feel we need a little bit of theory or instruction so we can have some tools or strategies for playing that sound more professional and he’s really good at that.”
To go along with theory and instruction, confidence building is also a major part of Mr. Miller’s teaching repertoire. He works with visually impaired pupils like Angela, but he does not just stop there. Mr. Miller also has students who have limited use of their limbs, but he takes pride in figuring out a method of teaching any student interested in learning. “My first disabled student, which this month is the tenth year that I’ve taught her, is 76 and has no use of her left side,” Mr. Miller said. “So I write one handed arrangements for her.” Furthermore, Mr. Miller spoke about another student who can only use her right hand, is blind, and navigates with a wheelchair, which makes the peddle inaccessible to her. She had never played before encountering Mr. Miller, but has been taking lessons for the last 3 years. “That is my greatest joy,” Mr. Miller said. “Teaching someone to play who never thought they could ever do it.”
Although former student Noel Romey was not a novice when he began taking lessons, the totally blind chemical engineer said he did receive a significant education from Mr. Miller. Mr. Romey, a 34-year-old Virginia resident, took lessons from 2003-2006, and acquired knowledge he always longed to obtain. “He kind of helped me to learn some new chord structures and learn about jazz,” Romey said. “I always enjoyed listening to it so I always wanted to learn how to
play some of the really complicated sounding chords, so he really helped me to change my playing style.”
Whether they are past, present or future, Mr. Miller relishes the thought of a student discovering the aspects of piano playing that are under appreciated. “When you play the piano, more parts of the brain are used,” Mr. Miller said. “You’ve got the spatially, you’ve got visually, you’ve got the tactile, and the dexterity.”
If you’re interested in finding out just how true Mr. Miller’s convictions are, he offers lessons for a minimum of 2 hours a month, at a rate of $90 per hour. He will even give an initial lesson free of charge, and anyone who signs up afterwards can pay by check, Visa or MasterCard. Via telephone, he can be reached at 847-382-6346 or 847-401-1721. Online, you can read more about Mr. Miller at pianoweb.com or jazzpianoweb.com