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Dr. Molly Miller… From Royal Albert Hall to Coachella, Shaping Musicians of Tomorrow

Beth Marlis

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Jazz Guitar Today continues the Women in Guitar Higher Education series with guitarist Dr. Molly Miller, Guitar Department Chair at Los Angeles College of Music


JGT’s Women in Guitar Higher Education Series continues, Beth Marlis interviews Dr. Molly Miller, Guitar Department Chair at Los Angeles College of Music

Beth: Could you briefly give our readers an overview of your career to date?

Molly: I’ve recorded and toured with great artists such as Jason Mraz, Black Eyed Peas, Donna Missal, and Morgxn, and performed at venues that include the Hollywood Bowl, Royal Albert Hall, Coachella, Red Rocks Amphitheatre, and Walt Disney Concert Hall among others. I was featured on Jason Mraz’s 2018 album Know and his forthcoming record, out in 2021. I’m also in the house-band on The Bachelor’s newest ABC primetime show, Listen To Your Heart. After I earned my Doctorate in Musical Arts (DMA) from the University of Southern California in 2016, I  became the Chair of the Guitar Department at Los Angeles College of Music. When I’m not on tour, running a Guitar Department, or in the studio, I head my own trio, Molly Miller Trio, which has been showcased on NPR’s Fresh Air. The second album by Molly Miller Trio is slated for release later in 2020.

What initially drew you into higher education leadership?

Working in a leadership position in higher education happened organically. It is not a role I thought I would be in at this point in my career, but upon reflection, it happened quite naturally: the educational experiences I had led me to this place. I started teaching guitar when I was 16 years old; I started teaching private lessons and then jazz and improvisation workshops in my community. While in college, I spearheaded an all-girls rock band for middle school students and then expanded the music program, adding more guitar classes and band classes to the music program at Chandler School in Pasadena (K-8). I was working in leadership positions with grade school students not because I sought a leadership position, but rather was compelled to create musical opportunities for students.

My experience growing up playing music shaped who I am today, and knowing that I can provide some of that for others drove me to create musical outlets for students. I love teaching guitar. I love teaching music. It has been particularly rewarding to dive into higher education. I was a guitar student in higher education for so long -my relationships with my professors were incredibly impactful. They helped shape who I am today as a human, musician, and educator. It is rewarding to be on the other side of higher education now, no longer the “student”, but rather the “teacher”- although I learn from my students every day. Adam Levy was the Department Head at LACM when I started teaching there. When his position opened up, I applied because I thought I could do a great job: I am obsessed with the guitar, I spent a lot of time studying it, and I love teaching. I feel very fortunate to have my position. 

Can you talk about the emergence of women into guitar education leadership roles? What are your observations about why and how this paradigm shift took place; and do you see it continuing?

I can only speak to my own experience. As I look back on my years as a student, the void of female mentors and educators is striking- it was something that was accepted for so long, even I accepted this as “normal”.  Although I accepted this, I felt the absence of female role models in the academic setting. It was not until I was 25 that I had female musicians as mentors and teachers; Patrice Rushen and Jennifer Condos- both of whom are giants on their instruments and some of the most inspiring and kind humans I know, neither guitarists. The experience of having women musicians and educators to look up to solidified my decision to go into education. I finally was able to see women doing the thing that I dreamed of doing. I got to have conversations with them about the complex dynamic of being a female musician that were not available to me before. I think the rise of women musicians in higher education is a result of the void we felt while going through it on the other side. Knowing that I can provide the next generation with even a fragment of the support and solace that Patrice Rushen and Jennifer Condos provided me, has led me to work in guitar education. 

Have you seen an increase in the number of women guitar professors in higher education in recent years?

When you reached out to me, I took a step back and realized there is a rise in women in guitar education leadership roles. It is easy to feel alone when we are spread across the country. I am optimistic that more and more women will work in guitar education, things like this tend to move slowly. I do see a trend online of more women being represented, which I think sends the message to the next generation that they too can, and should play guitar. More female guitar players will lead to more female guitar educators! 

Anna Azarov Photography

College level Jazz and Contemporary Guitar Program enrollments still tilt strongly towards a majority male student body. You’ll also find this same disparity among the guitar faculty and senior leadership positions.  Has this situation evolved at your institution?

While I would love to say otherwise, there is still a massive disparity between female and male guitar students at LACM. When I first arrived at LACM we had no female students, since working there we have had two in the guitar program. While the numbers are not as encouraging as I would like to say, I do believe there will slowly be a shift. Women need to know that guitar is not a boy’s club. Younger women need to see that they too can (and should) participate in the guitar community. This is becoming more obvious through social media. I see more and more women representing different gear companies and online platforms such as Pickup Music. I believe when younger females see that, then they know they too can play guitar, which will lead to more women in guitar programs – both as students and educators. 

As college educators, most of us go about our day-to-day responsibilities without thinking about gender; we do our jobs with utmost professionalism and work to support the growth of our programs, students, faculty, ourselves as leaders and our impact in the community.  Nonetheless, you are a powerful and visible role model for everyone under your purview and far beyond.  Do you have any comments you’d like to share about encountering and successfully overcoming institutionalized sexism or misogyny as an educator and/or professional musician?

While I have had a few sexist experiences with students, faculty, and administration, it is not something that stands out to me about my experience in the academic world. Although there are moments of frustration, the vast majority of my time in higher education has not been colored by my gender. The students, faculty, and administration at USC and LACM have been supportive, kind, and welcoming to me. The vast majority of frustrating sexist experiences due to being a female guitarist have come from outside the music world.

Tell us what are your go-to guitar(s) and amp(s) these days.

Amp: I am all about the Fender tube amps. My go to is a Princeton 65’ reissue. Guitar: my baby is a 1978 Gibson ES-335. I also love my shell pink 52’ reissue Tele.

What are your goals and plans for the future? Is there anything you might want to share with our readers about upcoming gigs, projects, sage advice or final words of wisdom?

I feel very fortunate to do what I do. I love what I do. Every day I go to “work” excited- every gig, tour, lesson, and class are a joy for me. I am inspired by the people I work with, the music I play, and the students I get to teach. They push me to be a better musician, educator, and human. My goal is to continue to do the things I do, but to always be growing. Keep an eye out for my new record coming out in 2021- Molly Miller Trio – St. George

Hmm, sage advice. The concepts I lean into are not being afraid and being yourself. It’s really scary to be a human and even scarier to be a musician (even more so a female guitarist). I find I am most successful and happy when I lean into who I am and have fun. No one needs another Hendrix or Django – the world is best served when you are being yourself and enjoying doing it. 

For More Information on Dr. Molly Miller:

Molly Miller Music  

[email protected]

Visit Molly Miller on YouTube

View More JGT Artist Features

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