Nov 16, 2022
In music a pause can be used to great effect.
The same can be said for Ashley Miller’s career path.
Miller, a 2008 Florida Southern College graduate, was first enrolled at FSC as a music major when she graduated from Lake Gibson High School in 2000. After two years, Miller decided a break from schooling was needed for personal reasons.
When Miller returned in 2006, she had a new career in mind, one that ironically would lead her back to music and a job as the Lakeland Symphony Orchestra’s Executive Director.
Miller began taking courses toward a major in advertising. It is a path where Miller found one of her greatest allies and mentors in former Florida Southern College professor William Gregory.
“He was such a huge help to me to even take on this job,” Miller said. “He’s still a wonderful friend and advisor to me as an adult. Part of what I really appreciated about him was that he listened and treated everyone with fairness as an individual. He wasn’t afraid to think outside of the box, and he wasn’t afraid to tell you that you needed to push yourself to do better. He continues to inspire me.”
It was with Dr. Gregory’s encouragement that Miller took an internship during her senior year with Volunteers in Service to the Elderly (VISTE) in Lakeland.
That summer VISTE was celebrating its 25th anniversary and had a special guest speaker in famous national weatherman Willard Scott. Miller spent much of that summer helping to plan that celebration using the skills she learned under Gregory at Florida Southern.
“I knew it was a non-profit and that they did a lot with the elderly,” Miller said. “I didn’t understand how it fit with my major. It was a lot of event planning and marketing for their 25th anniversary. They trusted me to take my internship and run with it. I got to apply a lot of what I learned at FSC by writing press releases and preparing marketing assets. I wrote radio spots too. In my time there I really grew to love it.”
Miller spent 11 years with VISTE before moving on to MADE, a boutique advertising and branding marketing agency in Lakeland.
The next three years were spent as an account executive for MADE before Miller was approached about the job with the Lakeland Symphony Orchestra.
Before accepting the job Miller had to talk things over with her husband.
The job at the Lakeland Symphony Orchestra was going to take a lot of time, and as a mom to her seven-year-old son, she also wanted to make sure the job was right for her and her home life.
“One of the things I told my husband before I took this job was ‘You do realize this is going to be a situation where I throw myself fully into this? The job will become me,’” Miller said. “Anyone who works non-profit can understand that. Anything I do, I’m all-in. This was a tough decision in a way that I had to think about having balance in my life. So much of that has to do with being present as a mom to my son. This was a decision I didn’t take lightly. It’s a huge life commitment. You can’t just dip your toe in and then a month later say, ‘Just kidding.’ It took a lot of conversation and thought at home to make this commitment.”
Eventually Miller decided to take the job and her circle back to a career in music was complete.
Miller began her journey in music with piano lessons from former Florida Southern College music professor Paula Pasche. Along the way, Miller also picked up the oboe, was on the drum line, while playing a variety of instruments including the xylophone, marimba, and chimes.
Miller also sang for local Lakeland band The Rogues, which her dad was in until his death in 1996.
“Singing was my first love,” Miller said.
Miller also has a deep love for the Lakeland community, and the merging of her love of music with the community is something that she takes great joy in every day as the Lakeland Symphony Orchestra’s Executive Director.
“I love this community,” Miller said. “This is my home. This is where I’m from. This is what I want to invest in, making our community a better place to live, by enhancing that through arts and culture that plays a major role in health of community. This has really married my passions for people and the community, and the fact that I have a chance to lead an organization that brings joy and healing to people, young and old, is something I just could not turn away from. I really am so grateful for the opportunity to re-engage my love for music, but also to be the head of an organization that brings inspiration to so many in the community.”
Part of that community is also a collaboration with Florida Southern.
Through artists in residence at the College and combined performances, Miller is able to give back to her alma mater thanks to her work with the Lakeland Symphony Orchestra.
“The big thing is our opera,” Miller said. “We have one in January that’s fully staged at Branscomb. We also collaborate with the student chorus. We have about 15 music students who are singing in our chorus. That gives them exposure to the opera experience, but also to professional musicians that we bring in. We could not do opera without Florida Southern.”
Pietro Mascagni’s masterpiece Cavalleria Rusticana (Rustic Chivalry) will take place at 7 p.m. on January 21 at Branscomb Auditorium. Tickets range from $25-$75 and can be purchased here
Check out the Lakeland Symphony Orchestra here.
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