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After 65 years, percussionist finally says farewell to Bangor Symphony Orchestra

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

In 1957, a pharmacist known as Billy Miller had just moved to Bangor, Maine, when he got a call from an old friend.

BILLY MILLER: He said, there's a triangle part in an upcoming symphony concert in September. Would you like to play it? And I said, sure. Why not?

CHANG: That triangle part led to another gig and then another, adding up to 65 years as a percussionist in the Bangor Symphony Orchestra in Maine.

DANIEL ESTRIN, HOST:

It was just a community orchestra in 1957. Miller says a lot has changed.

MILLER: We've done nothing but improve from year to year. Every time we got a new conductor, he took us to another level.

ESTRIN: Miller has now worked with seven conductors at the Bangor Symphony Orchestra. These days, it's a professional ensemble under the baton of Grammy Award-winning music director Lucas Richman.

CHANG: Miller has also helped the orchestra by fundraising and managing personnel and even serving on the board, all while running his family drugstore. Today, the principal percussion chair in the BSO is endowed in his honor.

MILLER: I got everybody fooled. They think I'm great. They think when I hit a simple crash cymbal, it's great, or a triangle beat. But I proved this weekend that I wasn't perfect.

ESTRIN: Well, what happened last weekend? Miller played his last performance ever with the orchestra. But when he came up to give his farewell address, he made a confession.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MILLER: I have to tell you the truth. Right now I'm having a situation where I couldn't find my suspenders.

(LAUGHTER)

MILLER: If you'll notice, my right hand is holding my pants up.

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: We love you, wardrobe malfunctions and everything.

CHANG: Billy Miller retired from the drugstore 10 years ago, and he's 87 years old now. But he has no plans to stop playing music. He says it's like ice cream.

MILLER: I want more (laughter), more ice cream. I never had enough ice cream in my life. Did you?

(SOUNDBITE OF BANGOR SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA PERFORMANCE OF HALL'S "GREETING TO BANGOR")

ESTRIN: That's "Greeting To Bangor" by composer R.B. Hall, performed by the Bangor Symphony Orchestra last weekend. And that's Billy Miller banging in Bangor on the bass drum.

(SOUNDBITE OF BANGOR SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA PERFORMANCE OF HALL'S "GREETING TO BANGOR") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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