Antrim fiddler and violin maker, Rodney Miller, will serve as New Hampshire’s sixth Artist Laureate. Miller is a master of New England fiddling, a distinctive mix of Celtic and French Canadian musical styles played primarily for social dancing. He is deeply respected in New Hampshire and nationally for his extraordinary musicianship, his extensive knowledge of the traditional music of New England, and for the fine quality of his hand crafted instruments.
Miller’s roots in music are deep, both in his family life and in his community. His father was a minister for a local church and played the fiddle, while his mother played the piano. Miller first learned to play the fiddle as a youngster on his grandfather’s instrument and began playing for contra dances when he was 18. He has now been playing the fiddle for over 50 years having trained and played with callers and musicians such as Ralph Page, Duke Miller, Bob McQuillen, and Dudley Laufman. Miller describes himself as a Franco-American fiddler having shared tunes and performed with many well-known and respected fiddlers across NH and VT including the Riendieu family, the Beaudoin family, the Coté family, Jean Carignan, Wilson Langlois, and Omar Marcoux.
As young man, his journeys took him to Europe where he apprenticed in violin making with master instrument maker Jacob Doriath in the small town of Oblarn, Austria. He continued his training as student of Karl Roy, director of the Mittenwald, Germany school of violin making, at the University of New Hampshire Summer Violin Making Institute, and with physicist Carleen Hutchins, a pioneer of violin acoustical theories.
Today, Miller both plays widely for dances and earns his living making extraordinary violins, violas, and cellos for Stamell Stringed Instruments. Working from his home workshop in Antrim, New Hampshire, Miller combines his exacting craftsmanship, his understanding of tone woods, and his acutely trained ear to produce instruments that are valued for their warmth and depth of sound. Most of his recordings are made playing instruments of his own making.
As Miller has matured into a fiddler of wide renown, his direct connection to the unbroken legacy of contra dance music in the Monadnock region has given him a unique perspective on the cultural influences that have created the music. He delves into its depths, understanding that the music bears the imprint of
English, Scottish, Irish, and French Canadian influences, all of which can be expressed in the subtle variations of musical phrasing, ornamentation, and bowing styles. Miller has said, “Playing live music for live dancing is an exceptionally unique and rich way in which the citizens of NH can actually participate and appreciate the heritage of our ancestors and experience the importance of community.”
Miller is also known for his composition of many social dance fiddle tunes. Many of them, like Bob McQuillen tunes, have become standards in the New England traditional music repertoire.
Chosen for his skill, flexibility and vast repertoire, Miller has represented New Hampshire at many national and international events including the National Folk Festival, the Quebec 400 Celebration, and the 1999 Smithsonian Folklife Festival where he seamlessly joined various configurations of musicians to play for dances and for intimate performances.
Miller has received four Traditional Arts Apprenticeship grants and each time, the feedback from his students consistently attests to the respect they have for him as a musician and his skill as a teacher. In 2013 he was nominated for a National Heritage Fellowship Award from the National Endowment for the Arts.