Educator, band director, Santa Claus, John Philip Sousa — Rod Miller does it all.
The director of bands for Ohio’s Port Clinton City School District has been in the business for 34 years, with his illustrious tenure coming to an end May of 2022, when he plans to retire. He’s also an avid John Philip Sousa impersonator and expert, as well as a “real beard Santa,” working at jolly events all over, and even virtually with kids during the pandemic.
While Rod Miller has no shortage of interests to keep him busy in the stage of life, he’ll miss what he loves about his career, including student travel. For his many journeys around the country, he’s stuck with Super Holiday Tours, treasuring the family dynamic and personal touches the company provides.
Highlights of travel include nighttime parades through Disney, the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Chicago, trips to Cincinnati and many more.
Despite retiring, Miller already has plans for the future, from spending more time with his family to guest conducting for the Toledo Symphony’s first ever Sousa concert in May 2022. In the meantime, we talked with Miller about his long and rewarding career.
What do you love about student travel?
I think first and foremost, there’s an esprit de corps you have when you travel. You’re all working for a common goal, working to represent both themselves and their band or choir or whatever it is. It’s setting goals and expectations for musical quality and marching quality, because what I tell bands all the time is, “When we go to Disney or wherever, the band this year is really auditioning for the next group that comes here.” Disney will say, “Hey, they were easy to work with, they turned in things on time. They looked great. They were professional backstage.” You instill that into your group, that this is your legacy. You are setting something for the future of this program.
And how else do you think it helps the kids?
We always do this on our way down when we cross the Ohio River: I say, “Okay, how many of you have never been outside of the state of Ohio?” It’s amazing how many kids raise their hands. Even though we live 20 minutes from Cedar Point, it’s interesting to see how many kids have never been there.
So I think it provides an opportunity for kids that aren’t typically able to do things. You’re creating memories that you will never, ever forget. You’re going to be 80 years old and you’ll remember that trip to Florida.
What do you like about Super Holiday Tours?
When you work with them, you’re working with the people that are your first line of information. I don’t have to call someone, then they call someone, then they call someone to get the information. They’ve always been the frontline for information. And number two, it’s I’ve always felt like Super Holiday Tours was family, and I think that’s important on a trip, because you feel like they always have your back. They’re always working with you and not just for you.
Ultimately, you need to find someone you’re comfortable with. The vendors that I have used —for instrument repair, buying instruments or traveling — whatever it is, when they quit being a vendor and you become friends, it makes everything so much better.
So you consider Super Holiday friends?
I’ll give you a perfect example. Two weeks ago, we were having a home playoff football game. And we didn’t know when my last home football game was going to be because our football team is really good this year and they’re in the playoffs. So, I’m sitting there in front of my band, and all of a sudden somebody is walking up to me with their phone, videotaping me. I’m like, “What the heck?” Then I realized, it’s Bryan Cole from Super Holiday Tour. He flew up from Orlando, just to see me in my band for what could be my last home football game after 34 years of doing this.
It shows that I’m not just a means to them making a living. They really do care about us as individuals and people.
Any advice to fellow music directors?
My advice to people is keep filming and recording your bands at all different phases, because you never know when an opportunity comes up to do something and they say, “Hey, we need three minutes of this or we need five minutes of this.” And then a lot of directors say, we can’t apply for that, we don’t have that! Film them onstage. Film them on a parade route. Film them at halftime shows.
Looking back on your career, how do you feel?
I’ve had a lot of people ask me, “How do you want to be remembered?” And I want people to know that I cared about my kids and about our families and our schools and communities. I think when you do that, great things happen. You know, there’s a saying out there that people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care. And I tell young directors all the time, “Don’t teach the subject. Teach the kids.” When you do that, the subject will fill itself in.
I’m not the best band director in the world by any stretch of the imagination, but I don’t think anybody could ever care more about their students and make sure that their mental wellbeing is good, that they had a safe place to come to in the band room. And as long as I have kids that feel that way, then I think it was a successful career.
This article originally appeared in Teach & Travel’s January issue.