Folk musician Michael Miller was one of only two Kent Countians to be recognized by the Division of the Arts' fellowship grants. The guitar player, writer and psychotherapist talked to us about why he picked up the guitar, what the grant means and more.
Earlier this year, the Delaware Division of the Arts awarded 19 visual artists, musicians and writers fellowship grants to continue their high-quality work. Folk musician Michael Miller was one of only two Kent Countians to be recognized. The guitar player, writer and psychotherapist talked to us about why he picked up the guitar, what the grant means and more.
Q How and when did you start playing?
A A long time ago, about 30 years ago and I just started playing guitar because I love music. I’m 48, so when I was a kid it was the late ’60s and early ’70s, and music was really becoming the expressive form of everybody, whether it was rock or folk it was something people picked up themselves because they had something to say. I can’t read music, I just play by ear. I never took lessons.
Q How has your music career progressed?
A I did play out a few times on and off before I came to Delaware, but it was really after I came here I tried to play public. Things started to get busy for me about 10 years ago and I ran an open mic in Smithers, and cut a live disc at a cafe in Middletown.
My skill level hasn’t dropped, but for the last five years I’ve really been interested in reeducating myself and starting a new career.
The cool thing about the fellowship is it’s kind of a reminder about the quality of my work. All the applications are assessed by out-of-state experts in the field.
It’s a great reason to kind of reinvigorate my efforts.
Q Your award was classified as Folk Art: Music. How do you define folk music?
A That’s just a big can of worms. I think basically folk music is, if it’s not traditional, it’s self-taught. Years ago I kind of encouraged the Division of the Arts to expand their thinking to include more than traditional sounds. The singer-songwriter community really is a community, so to speak.
Q So do you feel like we’re embracing folk music more?
A Yes and no. Folk has almost always been a catch-all term for music that you can’t put in other categories.
The difference between fine and folk is just a cultural artifact. If you just look at the expression, that’s the connection between all art forms. The notion that there’s something that’s fine art and something that’s folk art is a cultural artifact. There’s no such thing. Fine art is associated with cultural power and is taught professionally.
Q What do you hope comes from this grant?
A I really want to refocus my efforts on writing, because that’s really where the quality of my work shows up, whether in the lyrics or the music. That just takes a certain amount of time. Once I complete my license hours in the fall I really hope to just spend a certain amount of time writing. And the next logical step would be playing out again. And I’m trying to reconnect with the singer-songwriter community in New Castle, and I’m thinking of putting together a showcase.
Q Whose music do you connect to?
A Singer-songwriters. Neil Young, David Gray is great, great stuff. He can take a very simple progression and just make it extremely elegant and meaningful through his stuff. There’s an English guy Billy Bragg. The more expressive, the better.