In Memoriam: Thomas Miller

October 16, 2018

Thomas Miller, past-president of NASM, passed away on October 6, 2018 in Mobile, Alabama. He was 88 years old. Prior to his retirement, he had served as Dean of the Northwestern University School of Music, and prior to that, the East Carolina University School of Music. In NASM, Miller was active as an evaluator and presenter, and elected by his peers to a number of offices, including member of the Graduate Commission – a predecessor to the Commission on Accreditation, Vice President, and President. He was the Association’s highest elected officer from 1982 to 1985.

These three years saw the development of standards and documents that, with timely revisions since, remain foundational in NASM and in music in higher education. Much of this work was pursued with the cooperation and advice of other organizations in music. Content areas included undergraduate degrees in pedagogy; master’s degrees in music therapy; the education and training of orchestral musicians and conductors, including standards for the preparation of conductors; education and training in opera/music theatre, including standards in these areas; expansion and clarification of standards for doctoral degrees in music.

The NASM self-study format was revised to make it more useful for evaluation and planning within each institution and to improve the relationship between the outlines of the self-study document and the NASM visitors’ report. The HEADS project was improved, and the Association published The Assessment of Graduate Programs in Music as a resource for independent use by institutions, the first of several such voluntary ‘assessment’ documents. NASM and the College Music Society held overlapping annual meetings, both focused on Music in General Education, a continuing theme for both organizations.

NASM and the other arts accreditors developed and published a common statement defining baccalaureate degrees in the arts with particular emphasis on commonalities and distinctions between professional and liberal arts degrees across all the arts disciplines. And, there were efforts with colleague organizations to support P-12 music education, and provide basic descriptions of the natures and contributions of the arts in higher education, primarily to orient those not well familiar with the arts as disciplines, or with the several roles of the arts in postsecondary institutions.

In these and other efforts, Tom Miller was known for his absolute dedication to work of the highest distinction, and for his wisdom in finding means to achieve large scale consensus results intended to support the pursuit of excellence. He had an outstanding sense of the membership individually and collectively, and projected understanding, respect, and empathy for all types of institutions, saw and sought to reveal the synergies among all institutions and forces building up music. He was a strong proponent of consultation, cooperation, and continuity, and in the tradition of all NASM presidents, completed work that had been planned before his presidency, and presided over the initiation of projects that would continue when his term was completed. And, behind all his leadership and achievement was a sense of humor influenced by his particular appreciation and respect for the insightful wit of British comedian Peter Sellers. In his work on behalf of NASM, Tom’s dedication and sense of humor enhanced seriousness, wise decision making, and excellence by being a force for opening possibilities, considering probabilities and options, seeking large scale perspectives, and in Tom’s own words, “taking our work more seriously than we take ourselves, so we don’t make mistakes.”

Today, in honoring Tom Miller, we thank him and his peers of over thirty years ago for showing us once again how excellent work lasts and lasts. We all know this about work in music itself. Tom Miller’s passing reminds us that the principle applies to work for music as well.