George Milne is well known in central Vermont as the president of Barre’s Granite Savings Bank and Trust Company for nearly 30 years, but how many are aware that he has been composing “classical” music for decades?
Milne, who lives in Montpelier, has decided to come out of the closet. The amateur composer will be presenting the first-ever concert of his music, performed by some of the area’s finest professional musicians, at 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 12, on the stage of the Barre Opera House.
“My first reaction was it’s like walking naked on the stage,” Milne, now in his 80s, says. “But, I said why not? So here we are.”
“I find it inspiring,” says Eric Nielsen, one of Vermont’s foremost composers, who has been teaching Milne for several years.
“To have a person for whom composing is that big a passion at this stage of his life I think is inspiring,” Nielsen said. “And that he has continued to work and has continued to turn out pieces that actually work. He’s got a great ear for melody.”
Milne’s program features 18 pieces, two to five minutes in length, for piano, clarinet, viola, cello and men’s voices. Performers are pianist Allison Cerutti, clarinetist Joni McCraw, violist Elizabeth Reid, cellist Michael Close, and singers Roger Grow, tenor, Skip Potter, tenor, Neil Cerutti, baritone, and Neil Wasek, bass.
“They’re all pretty wonderful,” Milne said recently by phone. “I’m privileged.”
Growing up in Barre, music was very important in Milne’s family. His mother was a pianist, who would play at the Rotary Club and at the Universalist Church, and in a piano duo that performed in the area.
“I took piano lessons from age 6 to 10,” Milne said. “I could read music, I could play the right hand, I could play the left hand — but I could never put them together.”
Milne quit at 10 because he was born very near-sighted and doctors told him he shouldn’t be using his eyes unnecessarily (since proven a fallacy).
“But over the years I would sit down at the piano and start what I call doodling,” Milne said. “Every once in a while I would come up with a tune that I think is pretty good, and I’ll record it. This kind of developed from there.”
Milne graduated magna cum laude from Tufts College, where he sang in the choir, then returned to Barre and went to work for the Granite Savings Bank. He was president from 1973-1992.
His first real composition experience was in the 1980s, when he and a friend co-wrote the song, “The Green Mountain Boys.”
“So we came up with some music, and Dick Shadroui arranged it,” Milne said, referring to the Barre pianist and teacher.
“I have to give special credit to Dick because none of my choral work would have been performed if it weren’t for him arranging it,” Milne said. “I think the composers get all the credit, but the arrangers do all of the work.”
Milne also wrote half a dozen songs, mostly for Christmas, for Barre Rotary Club’s singing group, the RotaBarreans. With retirement, Milne was able to get more serious about compositions, and began lessons with Ken Langer, a music professor at Lyndon State College (now Northern Vermont University).
But Milne’s passion for composition lapsed for a bit, only to erupt again. It was about 2015 that Roger Grow, then choir director at the Barre Universalist Church, recommended Nielsen as a teacher.
“So Erik and I got together at the Monteverdi (Music School in Montpelier) one afternoon and hit it off,” Milne said. “And I have to give a lot of credit to Erik. He’s very patient, while I’m old and slow.”
So Milne wrote a short piece for violin and cello and another for clarinet, violin and cello. He even wrote funeral music for both his brother and sister, who both died within the last year.
“The issues that he faces are the issues that all other composers face,” Nielsen said. “That is: Great, you’ve got a tune. Now what? What do you do with this material? But I think that the older we get, the more challenging it becomes to be able to call on creativity and have it respond.”
And, for all composers, facing premieres is scary.
“I think for people who have only known George from Rotary, and from banking, all the other professional activities that he’s had, and really don’t know anything about his creative side,” Nielsen said, “this is going to be quite enlightening.”