From Fullback to Bass-Baritone: Keith Miller's Remarkable Career Change

Apr 12, 2011

'Opera News' has lauded 'the smoldering presence and sharp, booming delivery' of Keith Miller. This high praise has been bestowed on the bass-baritone despite the fact that he has only five years of performing experience. Perhaps even more remarkable: Miller has transitioned to opera from a career in professional football.

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By Douglas Fehlen

Keith Miller The Metropolitan Opera Madame Butterfly Carmen Tosca footlball player bass-baritone singer Arena Football League European Football League

Defying the Odds

Keith Miller has never backed down from a challenge. Growing up in a tiny town of 300, the young Miller aspired to play in the NFL despite knowing how few players make it to that level. But the fullback took a big step forward with a successful football career at the University of Colorado. And then he did transition to the pros, spending time in the European and Arena football leagues.

But while Miller worked to achieve his lifelong dream of playing in the NFL, another potential path opened up to him. The football star developed a love for music in college, a passion he nurtured by singing along with operatic recordings. When tryouts for a role in a production of Don Giovanni opened up, Miller took his chance. He got the part, and Miller soon traded his life on the gridiron for one on the stage.

Keith Miller The Metropolitan Opera Madame Butterfly Carmen Tosca footlball player bass-baritone singer Arena Football League European Football League

A Meteoric Rise

Keith Miller came to the music world rather late compared to many of his peers. Even when he got his first part, he had had no formal training. The part he performed is one he couldn't even read the music to - Miller had only memorized it from recordings. To pursue opera seriously, the determined career changer would have to outwork peers already thoroughly trained in music. Miller did this with gusto, applying the work ethic he'd developed in his football training to his music education.

And hard work was what was required. As Miller tells it: 'I was expected to be on par with vocal students who had advanced degrees and sung in major competitions. I needed to know the history of the libretto, how to sight read, play piano, technique and musicianship.' To fast-track his progress, the previously self-taught Miller enrolled in the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia. After much hard work, the singer began landing more and more roles in productions.

Keith Miller The Metropolitan Opera Madame Butterfly Carmen Tosca footlball player bass-baritone singer Arena Football League European Football League

Keeping a Level Head

Among Miller's nearly 200 stage credits are performances in operas like Faust, Tosca, Macbeth and Carmen. The singer regularly performs at The Metropolitan Opera in New York City's Lincoln Center. And he's also recently made his debut at the Washington National Opera in a production of Madame Butterfly. Even with only five years performing in the opera world, he's widely regarded as a rising star.

Miller, despite being the subject of such an amazing success story, has managed to keep a level head about the realities of his career change. 'If you ever think that you have arrived,' he says, 'you should realize that you've only arrived at the beginning.' Miller demonstrates an attitude that most career changers can benefit from. As he says, 'It's a continuing process of how can I get better, how can I be the best I can be.'

Are you considering changing careers? Here are some things you may want to consider before taking the plunge.

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