- Associated Press - Monday, May 23, 2016

TUPELO, Miss. (AP) - Virginia Miller knows what it’s like to lift up a joyful noise.

“I usually didn’t have the hairs on my arms raise up until I finished singing,” the 69-year-old Okolona resident said. “I thought of it as God saying, ‘You did OK.’”

She also knows what it’s like to live in a world devoid of music.

“I was so depressed. I was so out of sorts,” she said. “I quit singing. I quit everything. I was a mess.”

A Jackson native, Miller remembers singing in childhood simply because she wanted to. At age 7, she auditioned for a local television show and got invited to perform.

“I believe it was ‘Que Sera, Sera,’” she said. “I’m not sure. I know I sang that in school a lot.”

The soprano started serious voice lessons at age 12, and continued her studies through high school. She sang in college operas, and spent two summers at the Seagle Music Colony in New York, where she performed opera and musical theater.

After graduation, she connected with the music director at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Cathedral in Jackson, where she interpreted the classics.

“I did Bach recitals. I did Schubert recitals. I did Poulenc recitals,” she said. “I did lots of stuff. It was like a dream come true.”

Miller also was a member of the choir, and she took part in yearly Christmas programs at the Old Capitol.

“We would stand up in the rotunda and sing,” she said. “It was wonderful, except I don’t like heights.”

She traces her troubles back to medication that weakened her bones, so when she fell from a tall, antique bed, she broke her hip. After surgery, she was in constant pain. For the first time in her life, she didn’t feel like singing.

“I was in a wheelchair. I just sat all day. I sat in a chair,” she said. “I watched TV and read. I was up to 360 pounds toward the end. My poor husband had to do everything.”

H.B. Miller was a Methodist minister, and the pair traveled from town to town and church to church over the years.

The move to Lumber-ton proved to be a changing point. The organist at church asked Miller to play piano. She’d taken piano in second grade and in college, but her skills were rusty.

“I decided, hey, this is an opportunity for me to do something,” Miller said, “and I got at that piano and I practiced and I practiced and I practiced.”

The next move was to Crossroads United Methodist Church in Lucedale, where she started singing solos at church and for funerals.

“I’m not saying I was singing like I used to, but halfway decent most of the time,” she said.

The last move brought them to Okolona. They decided to stay after H.B. Miller retired.

Though she still uses a hover chair, she’s shed about 160 pounds. She’s dealing with both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, and music is part of her therapy.

“I think it limbers it up a little bit,” she said. “If I go two or three days and don’t practice on the piano, my fingers seem to be worse.”

She and a friend are considering starting a music and art studio in Okolona. They’re not sure what the response might be in the community, but they’re excited about the idea.

“It wouldn’t just be opera,” she said. “I’ve sung blues. I’ve sung jazz. I’m not that much into contemporary pop music. I do gospel music, and of course, hymns and contemporary Christian music. And Broadway. I love Broadway.”

Miller was professionally trained from her early teens to have a voice that lasted a lifetime, and she’s renewed her commitment to making that a reality.

“I’m at the age when if you don’t practice, the voice, it will be over,” she said. “You have to keep doing it, and that’s what I plan to do.”

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Information from: Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, https://djournal.com

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