He Praised God Through Music

February 24th, 2011

The Mennonite music world is much poorer with the passing of John J. Miller ’68, who died on Aug. 1, 2010, as a result of a brain tumor.

Miller wrote the following reflection on Nov. 29, 2009, to a fellow Mennonite by way of explaining his passion for church music (excerpted):

Congregational singing has always been special singing for me. As a youth growing up in the Conservative Mennonite Church (the name got changed) in the Goshen, Indiana area we used to get together after Sunday evening service for a hymn-sing. These songs became the backbone of our theology when we weren’t encouraged to go to college or seminary.

Throughout my life and work in music and music making, my favorite kind of singing has been good hymn singing. For many years I would have the students memorize hymns on which they were tested. I suppose this was the best gift I could give them. Of course, they didn’t all see it as a gift. Hymns are the folk songs of the church. For a people who have little liturgy in our services, it is our response to God’s Word and Work among us. It is a corporate confession, testimony, commitment and praise.

Miller taught at Locust Grove Mennonite School for 11 years, Rosslyn Academy (Nairobi, Kenya) for seven years, Lancaster Mennonite School for 16 years and one year each at Greenwood Mennonite School, Greenwood, Delaware and Hinkletown Mennonite Schools.

Miller also served in music ministry at New Holland United Methodist Church, Willow Street Mennonite Church, Mellinger Mennonite Church and Neffsville Mennonite Church. He founded the Lancaster Chamber Singers and sang with the Susquehanna Chorale for 11 years.

Born in Arthur, Illinois, Miller grew up in Goshen, Indiana, graduated from Bethany Christian High School, Eastern Mennonite College, and Manhattan School of Music. He also studied at Westminster Choir College and the Kodaly Institute in Hungary. He was a long-time voice student with Thomas Houser.

Married to Helen Louise Kraybill ’66, the Kraybills have adult children who are both musicians: Wendell Epp Miller plays cello, and Frances Miller plays violin (she is also enrolled in EMU’s graduate program in conflict transformation).