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Colleagues, Musicians, Friends Remember Late Classical Music Critic Sarah Bryan Miller

By Eric Dundon

Sarah Bryan Miller covered St. Louis arts and culture, with a focus on classical music, for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for more than 20 years. She reviewed countless St. Louis Symphony Orchestra concerts and covered institutional news. Her steadfast reporting gave voice to the SLSO and the many other arts organizations she covered, immeasurably enhancing the St. Louis arts and culture landscape.

Sarah Bryan Miller

Following her passing in 2020, the SLSO established the Sarah Bryan Miller Fund, and endowed fund that supports vocal soloists and performances of choral repertoire with the SLSO, a nod to Miller’s career as a professional mezzo-soprano.

The Fund’s first use will be at the November 27-28, 2021—concerts that celebrate Miller’s profound legacy. These concerts feature mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke singing The Work at Hand by Jake Heggie—which also features SLSO cellist Elizabeth Chung—and Edward Elgar’s Sea Pictures.

While the SLSO celebrates Bryan’s legacy in concert, her friends and colleagues shared heartfelt words of remembrance that demonstrates Bryan’s devotion to music, humble yet feisty personality, and enduring legacy.

Leonard Slatkin, SLSO Conductor Laureate

“Bryan was the voice for our musical community. Her words conveyed the spirit of a performance, as well as insight into the works she listened to. I always enjoyed my conversations with Bryan. She was witty, charming, and a font of information. Critics rarely impact me either personally or professionally. Most artists know how their performances have gone, but Bryan always seemed to capture the essence of what I was trying to accomplish.”

Gabe Hartwig, St. Louis Post-Dispatch colleague and Bryan’s editor

“Bryan lived classical music, and her passion was evident in her work. I admired her for absolutely owning her beat and for being an authority on not only the music but also the institutions and people she covered. She was such an ambassador for classical music, and we greatly miss her voice and expertise.”

Miller enjoyed a career as a mezzo-soprano before becoming a journalist. She sang throughout her lifetime.

Diana Haskell, SLSO Associate Principal Clarinetist and neighbor

“Sarah Bryan Miller, arts critic for the Post-Dispatch, continues to be a presence with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. Bryan, as she was known, fought cancer courageously. Her goal was to remain gracious and dignified until the end. Even while very ill, Bryan somehow found the strength to come to many of our concerts. It was her passion for music and writing that kept her returning week after week. When we were shut down due to COVID, Bryan began attending my lawn concerts, listening from her car. Several of us presented a special concert for her outside her home last August. That evening was healing and restorative ‘to her soul’, as she commented. Bryan loved the orchestra musicians, and she loved the audience. Now her love will be known for years to come through her tremendous gift to the symphony. Brava, Bryan. We miss you and are exceedingly grateful!”

Mark Swed, classical music critic, Los Angeles Times

“For a world of shrinking music coverage amid blossoming musical growth, Sarah Bryan Miller stood out as both necessity and rarity. What made her necessary is her careful and candid chronicling of the ever-expansive importance of St. Louis, its symphony, and opera.”

Scott Andrews, SLSO Principal Clarinetist

“Bryan was a true advocate for the musical arts in St Louis. Her tireless devotion to the SLSO was only a small part of her influence here for decades. She was a true friend to the small presenters and arts organizations in this city. From the very start of the Missouri Chamber Music Festival in 2011, an organization I am still proud to direct, she was so generous in her willingness to promote and highlight what the Festival was doing, and she bent over backwards to make time in her busy June calendar to attend and review the MOCM concerts. Bryan stayed in touch with musicians and ensembles she felt were important to highlight and did everything a person in her position could do to support and encourage live musical performance in the city. I considered her a friend and miss her voice. She spoke her mind, and told it as she saw it, and that is an important aspect to finding, encouraging, and promoting great music and artists.”

David Robertson, SLSO Music Director (2005-2018)

“Sarah Bryan Miller had a commitment to and passion for music in St. Louis that was on par with any of the outstanding artists who created or performed that music. She loved to give praise generously where she thought it due, and any of her less positive comments stemmed from the high level she wanted, desired, and expected, from anyone making music in the St. Louis region. Her pride when a performer from Mound City did well anywhere in the world was part of her deep sense of the greatness of the talent of the cultural bench in her adopted burg. It was wonderful to see her enthusiasm when she was on tour with her St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. I believe that her pride in that rivalled mine. It does not surprise me that she made such a generous gift to the SLSO. As a spiritual person, she knew the etymology of the word inspiration. When she passed from us, I understood that the Chorus in Heaven required a mezzo who had a way with words.”

Jane Henderson, St. Louis Post-Dispatch colleague

“I was able to attend a few opera and orchestra performances with Bryan, and one of my memories is how after the performance we'd dart out the door to her car so she could get home and write. Of course, as a critic, she didn't stand and clap, so we had a bit of a head start. But my memories of her also revolve around books and other interests she had: She loved to read and was curious about many things. And we collaborated for several years on coverage of Harry Potter books. She liked science fiction and fantasy and was always eager to review the next Potter book early, if I could get a copy. She remembered all the intricate details from the series and knew many of the legends or myths that informed things like Harry Potter, not to mention operas. So, although her first love was music, I think she had a wide variety of interests, as so many bright people do.”

Miller in Kyoto, Japan, with the Music Critics Association of North America.

Jennifer Nitchman, SLSO flutist

“I have great appreciation for Bryan's tireless work keeping the St Louis community aware of the wealth of excellent musical ensembles and performances that occur in our region. But I mostly miss her feisty spirit and sharp wit. We shared a love for cats and their endlessly varied and quirky personalities, and we communicated frequently over social media about the antics of our pets. Whenever I would ask her how she was feeling when she had procedures or treatments, she would always assure me that her "feline ministry to the sick" was taking good care of her and helping her recover. Her good humor in the face of a cruel illness never ceased to amaze me. What a beautiful legacy this gift is. I am so thrilled that her spirit will live on in our organization.”

Nicholas McGegan, frequent SLSO guest conductor

“In an era when arts criticism is slowly being shut out of one’s daily newspaper, she remained a strong voice as an advocate for the musical life of the city she loved. We didn’t meet very often but we did talk on the phone, usually on one of my frequent visits to the SLSO. She had very high standards and would point out if she felt that a performance didn’t live up to them; but she was never destructive or vindictive. I must admit that I would sometimes be a little nervous to go online the morning after one of my concerts to read her opinion, but I always found that she was fair and often had some wonderful insights into the music and how we had performed it. She wasn’t one of those critics who like to show off their musicological credentials in every review, nor did she basically regurgitate the program notes merely to pad out her piece. Instead she wrote, simply and straightforwardly, about what she thought and felt. That basic honesty was a refreshing quality and a rare one too. She will be much missed not only in St. Louis but in the wider music life of this country.”

Dan Neman, St. Louis Post-Dispatch colleague

“My first day at the Post-Dispatch, the Features department welcomed me with St. Louis pizza. Bryan sent me an email reading, "Do not, in your innocence, ask if the stuff on top is melted plastic. They will not think it is funny." I think it was the interjection of "in your innocence" that made it so perfectly Bryan, and perfectly hilarious.”

Alex Ross, classical music critic, The New Yorker

“Classical music desperately needs critics who are rooted in their communities and devoted to fostering their musical growth, and Bryan played that role splendidly for so many years. I always enjoyed reading her work.”

Felicia Foland, SLSO bassoonist

“Before Sarah Bryan Miller came to St. Louis and the Post-Dispatch newsroom, she was an aspiring opera singer in the Chicago Lyric Opera Chorus. I too was a young professional in Chicago, just before coming to St. Louis to join the orchestra. I noted that Bryan had started reviewing concerts in The Reader, a free Chicago periodical I read while still living and working in Chicago. Just a few short years later, our paths converged here in St. Louis. We were acquaintances, but not friends until the time Bryan shared her diagnosis of cancer. A shift occurred and “The 4th Wall”, as we musicians like to call the invisible wall between the orchestra on stage and audience, came down. Behind it, stood friendship. It was as if it was just waiting to be invited in. Bryan was able to stay informed about the music and musicians, and I was able to show care and support to one of our own from the broad circle our listeners create. I learned what facing the headwinds of death with certainty and steadiness may look like. Bryan even had the ability to quip on the day she bought her burial place at her church in Ladue that she liked the idea of spending an eternity in Ladue! Bryan said at a gathering of friends in her honor, “It is said nobody likes a critic, but this group shows that is not true.”

Mary Edwards, longtime friend and producer of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra broadcasts on St. Louis Public Radio

“Bryan's life and work were guided by her strong belief that it is incumbent on all people to take the gifts that God has given them to make a difference in the world. That belief led her to excellence in sharing music, both through her fine performances and outstanding writing, as well as her faith. The fact that Bryan continued sharing her gifts through her long battle with cancer right up to the time of her death should serve as inspiration to us all.”

Cathy Roche, SLSO usher

“Working at Dress Circle Left, I knew Sarah Bryan Miller for many seasons. I looked forward to talking with her the first of the weekend performances. Later when she was seated one level up, I continued to look forward to going up and talking a few minutes before the concert. Many patrons would ask if she was there and then walk up to talk or wave. Even after she passed, I would look up and think of her singing in heaven’s beautiful choir. I know she will be greatly missed.”

Eric Dundon is the SLSO’s Public Relations Manager.


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