David Miller

A profile taken from the Orwell Bulletin of March 1994


despite being profoundly deaf

David Miller of 31 Town Green Road has the rare good fortune to earn his living doing just what he most enjoys in life. Twenty years ago he finally escaped from the paths laid out for him by parents and circumstance and, despite being profoundly deaf, became a full-time building, repairer and tuner of that most impressive of musical instruments, the church organ.

after schooldays, two less-than-happy years learning accountancy

David was born in Orwell in 1933 into the ubiquitous Miller family that can trace its roots here back to the early 17th century. His father kept Miller’s Stores (now Basra’s shop) and the family lived in the adjoining house. David’s schooldays in Orwell and Cambridge were followed by two less-than-happy years learning accountancy, a useful skill for a grocer but a soul-destroying occupation for someone who wanted to work with his hands.

In 1953, when illness caused a staff shortage at Miller’s Stores, David seized the opportunity to escape from ledgers and double entry systems and shared the running of the family business until it was sold in 1972. Throughout those eighteen years he was a familiar sight in Orwell and the surrounding villages, delivering weekly orders to hundreds of households in the Miller van. Audrey, who he married in 1954, divided her time between their children, Stephen and Frances, and the customers. They now have five grandchildren, of whom Samantha takes a particular interest in organ building.

also worked as a painter and decorator

David also worked as a painter and decorator with A. and B. A. Mills, building up a successful decoration business of his own after Miller’s Stores was sold. Through all these changes of direction, however, one thing remained constant – David’s love of organ music and the mechanics of church organs. As a small boy he often played the American reed organ in the Methodist chapel and performed his first organ repair there with rubber bands and drawing pins. His piano teacher, convinced that he would make a better organist than pianist, cajoled him into asked the Revd. Clapton for permission to practise on the St Andrew’s Church organ. So began a long term Methodist/Anglican collaboration that helped break down the old barriers between the two Orwell churches. David has now been organist for the Methodist Church for nearly fifty years and has at the same time often played for weddings and funerals at the Parish Church. Feeling at home and accepted in both places of worship means a great deal to him.

increasing involvement with organ building and repair in the region

David’s involvement with organ building and repair grew until in 1974, with the encouragement of the local Methodist minister, Denzil Sutcliffe, he abandoned decoration and achieved his lifelong ambition to be an organ builder. He is not sufficiently mercenary to make his fortune; every job is a labour of love, but his order book is always full for two years ahead. He looks after over a hundred church and chapel organs within a hundred mile radius of Orwell and has a fund of amusing anecdotes about the characters and situations he meets during his work. The statistics involved are amazing.It took him and his then assistant John Stammers a day and a half just to dismantle the woodwork of a massive London organ before moving it to a Coventry church and eight men took all night to load the pipes into his van. An organ that he saved from destruction at Barnsley, Yorkshire, weighed eight tons and was rebuilt at Sandy Baptist Chapel, which had to be reinforced to take the weight.

organ lofts are notoriously dusty, dirty places

David has rebuilt approximately one organ per year since 1974, including those in both our churches. Hearing a “new” organ “speak” for the first time is always an emotional moment for him. His latest creation is the Orwell Methodist church organ which he plays regularly for Sunday services. For many years he helped run the Methodist youth club. Any time he can spare from his music is now spent on woodcraft, oil painting, hill walking or – hunting for his reading glasses! He is eternally grateful for Audrey’s patience with his unpredictable hours and the laundry he generates, organ lofts being notoriously dusty, dirty places. He also blesses the modern hearing aid technology which enables him to play and tune despite the deafness brought on by measles at the age of twelve.

crowning moment was playing the largest church organ in Europe

Enthusiasm and pleasure fairly radiate from David when he talks about any aspect of his work, but the crowning moment of his career so far was the opportunity to play the great organ of Liverpool Cathedral – the largest church organ in Europe, with about 10,000 pipes. As he called forth the notes of “The day Thou gavest…” to fill that great building I think he could almost have died happy, there and then.

This page was added by Pat Grigor on 09/01/2013.

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