Move over Diana Krall and Norah Jones! There’s a new leading lady in town, and her name is Emily Miller.
Readers of Berklee-Blogs may recognize her name from my Singer Showcase post, whom I called “the real star of the showcase.” I also said that I would “pay good money to see her headline a show,” so you can imagine my delight when I found out that Emily was headlining her own show at the Berklee Performing Center for Family Weekend!
Emily couldn’t have had a better opening act than the widely popular and successful Berklee a cappella group Pitch Slapped. The International Competition of Collegiate A Cappella champions and Season 2 contestants on the NBC show The Sing Off performed several new arrangements, and had several new members take solos. The group also announced their plans for a full length album and a West Coast tour, demonstrating that they have no plans of slowing down.
But the real draw, for me, was seeing the headlining act, Emily Miller. The songstress’s set opened with a re-imagination of James Taylor’s “How Sweet It Is” for the swinging Thinkin’ Big, a student run big band that premieres student arrangements and compositions. The swinging number was the perfect vehicle to highlight Emily’s gorgeous voice and ability to work the stage with the ease and charisma of a veteran performer. In possibly my favorite section of “How Sweet It Is,” Emily even flitted to and fro among the various musicians on stage, effortlessly improvising back and forth with a large portion of the band.
Emily also reprised both her performances from the spring Singer’s Showcase, “Precious” and “In Your Eyes,” each sounding just as fantastic as, if not better than, their original debuts. Readers may recall that I found Emily’s choice to cover an Esperanza Spalding song “gutsy” at the time of the Singer’s Showcase. But after hearing it this second time, the comparison between the two Berklee talents isn’t warranted, as Emily once again proved that she has made the song her own.
Although her more upbeat, swinging performances were impressive, some of Emily’s best moments at the Family Night concert were her softer, more sultry seated songs – “Willow Weep For Me” being a perfect example. The jazz standard was the perfect vehicle for Emily to put her deep, rich voice (akin to the aforementioned Berklee alum Diana Krall) on full display.
But Emily’s most memorable ballad had to be “Two For the Road,” an intimate performance with Ro Rowan on cello and Devon Yesberger on piano. Emily explained that she had wanted to perform the song for several years ever since she heard a friend sing it in a recital. But even without the preface, everything from the beautiful arrangement to Emily’s gorgeous story-telling, made it clear that this song was close to her heart.
Emily saved her most swinging tune for last with “Ooh Child,” leaving the audience wanting more – literally – as the chants for an encore arose while Emily took her bows. The thunderous response from the packed orchestra level further proved Emily’s ability to capture an audience.
Between having the best arrangements and musicians at her disposal and compiling a wonderful variety of songs that fully demonstrated her powerful, nuanced voice and musicality, Emily Miller’s concert felt like a professionally recorded and produced album, making my only complaint that I wasn’t able to leave for home with my own shrink-wrapped copy. One thing at a time, I suppose.
– Elisa Rice
* All photographs taken by the author