2017-04-20 / Around Town

Milham Comes Full Circle

Conversation with Ed Milham
By James Merolla

Ed Milham is enjoying his new role as the Swanhurt Chorus music director. 
(Contributed photo) Ed Milham is enjoying his new role as the Swanhurt Chorus music director. (Contributed photo) Swanhurst Chorus music director Ed Milham has melodic memories that date back to his impressionable childhood years. At age six, the Newport native experienced Swanhurst for the first time when his mother was singing in the choir. Now he has come full circle, not only as director of the musical for Swanhurst’s production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel,” but as a performer in on-stage choral roles.

Milham can often be seen directing his vocal charges with his right arm, while holding his disabled beagle, Toby, in his left.

Swanhurst has made some changes, but you still oversee the chorus and stage shows. Tell us about that. We have big plans for the next couple of seasons. I’m a big fan of adapting. This is my third performance with Swanhurst. We did Beethoven’s Mass in C and Handel’s Messiah earlier in the season. For “Carousel,” I was at the computer during rehearsal, using the techno orchestra for the production and synching it up to the singers. For teaching notes, I’m at the piano. Swanhurst is now an associated group: part chorus and part open audition for its dinner shows. We are working very differently these days.

Wasn’t Swanhurst, in a way, responsible in forming your musical roots? I still have strong memories of the Swanhurst performances of my youth, like “Trial by Jury” and “H.M.S. Pinafore,” by Gilbert and Sullivan, and “Down in the Valley” by Kurt Weill. The chorus performed in St. George’s Chapel back then, and I would just marvel at the scale of the place, the architecture, the tiled floors and the reverberation. Their director, Win Johnson, I still have a hard time calling him anything but Mr. Johnson, had an Anglican style boys’ choir at Emmanuel Church, which accepted boys as young as seven, and my brother was

singing with them. The boys’ choir was to sing with Swanhurst for a performance of the Benjamin Britten St. Nicholas cantata, and although I was still a few months too young to join the choir, I was absolutely insufferable and wouldn’t shut up until I was allowed to sing the piece. A few months later, I joined the choir, and I have to say, it formed the foundation of my musicianship.

And that carries over to this day? I still use many things I learned from Mr. Johnson, even now, in both my performing and my teaching. So, when I heard that the directorship of Swanhurst was opening up, I couldn’t help but apply and audition. I feel incredibly privileged and excited to have come full circle in this.

I hear you are very busy these days. Well, today I taught an American popular music class at Bridgewater State, then I had a voice lesson to give, and then I was hauling sound gear for one of the audio directors.

I also gave another voice lesson before coming here for rehearsal. I’m also playing bass in a rock band, counseling the chorus for the Boy Scouts, playing rock-and-roll on the State House lawn this weekend and staging for this show.

But you do this out of joy, right? I am loving it! Here’s the thing: a lot of community choruses try to do arrangements of popular stuff that their membership will enjoy. Swanhurst does music that makes other community chorus directors drool. The Beethoven Mass in C., for instance. I showed a colleague Swanhurst’s past performance list and his jaw fell to the ground. They love doing this stuff. And that is meat and potatoes to me.

I do what I like. To be able to walk into Swanhurst and have this great piece by Edward Elgar and they say, “Okay, let’s go,” or the Hymn from St. Cecilia, by Benjamin Britton, and they say, “Bring it on! … it’s the dream.

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