Rafe Miller - 4-year All-State selection

Osage High School senior Rafe Miller with OHS choir director Lori Hoeppner. Miller is a four-time All-State Music Festival pick – the first in Osage. 

No one was more surprised than Rafe Miller when, as a freshman, he was chosen to represent Osage High School at the Iowa All-State Music Festival Chorus.

“I was shocked,” the 17-year-old OHS senior said. “I thought, ‘No way.’” The number of freshmen invited to the festival is relatively low.

His reaction this year when he learned he would make his fourth straight appearance was a bit different.

“The pressure was off – I thought, ‘No more October auditions,’” he said with a laugh. But on a more serious note: “It is a real honor,” he said.

Only the finest – and an extremely small percentage -- of the state’s high school musicians are annually chosen to participate in the festival which showcases chorus, band and orchestra.

Miller, who sings bass with the Osage choir, was chosen for a fourth time this fall and appeared with the All-State Chorus Nov. 23, at the festival held in Ames. It is a feat no other Osage choir member has accomplished, said choir director Lori Hoeppner.

However, that achievement was not a surprise to either Hoeppner or Miller’s middle school instructor, Wendy Thorson. Even as a young singer, Thorson saw his talent, he said.

“She told me, ‘I know you can do it.’ She said that should be my goal, being a four-year All-State. She really made me love music; she made me passionate about it,” he said. Hoeppner, he added, has continued to support and challenge him and make him a better musician.

“With Mrs. Thorson, Ms. Hoeppner – Mr. (Jeff) Kirkpatrick, too – we have a great music program in Osage,” he said.

Hoeppner recalled Miller found out about his successful audition as a freshman about the same time he was “thrown into the lead of ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,’” as part of the high school theater, she said.

“It was kind of like throwing him to the wolves,” she said with a chuckle. “But he did great.”

Miller’s high marks in vocal performance not only come with a mature voice, Hoeppner said, but with a work-hard-and-then-work-harder work ethic and leadership ability that challenge other musicians around him. Fellow choir members look to him as the gold standard in class, Hoeppner said – his peers use his singing as the guide to singing their own parts.

“They use him as a teacher, so they get the right notes,” she said.

Miller said despite his youth in his first year at All-State, “I was really confident about it all; I don’t know why.” He was familiar with the program when his oldest sister, Madeline, sang with the All-State Choir some years ago.

“That concert was just amazing; such great musicians, in one place, playing together -- that really set the tone for me,” he said.

When he traveled to Ames that first year to perform in Hilton Coliseum, “I was walking through it beforehand, seeing all the chairs set up, everything getting ready – and it really hit me then. I thought, ‘I want to do this over and over again.’”

Getting there wasn’t without its pressures. Each subsequent year brought with it a bit more anxiety at audition time, he said. “As the years went, I felt more and more pressure to get in … it kept building and building -- but even then, I knew in the back of my head, ‘I’ve got this.’

“I prepare myself very well. Going to All-State Camp in the summer at Wartburg (College in Waverly), really helps people; that keeps you going.”

He also has been supported by two Wartburg instructors, Brian and Carita Pfaltzgraff, with whom he studies voice.

The work Miller has done has paid off, Hoeppner said.

“The maturity … the depth and richness of his voice; his range just keeps getting bigger; he has a great resonance of tone,” she added. His talents were most recently on display earlier in November when he portrayed the Beast in “Beauty and the Beast” at OHS.

He will enter Iowa State University next fall to pursue a major in computer engineering – another love of his – but will also minor in music performance.

Miller comes from a musical family. He is the son of Matt and Kelli Miller and has been “exposed to choral music from a young age,” he said. His sisters, Madeline and Olivia, were both musicians and his mom, Kelli, is also a lifelong musician.

Osage High School had other talented picks for All-State this year, and three of them were multi-year winners. Zach Duren and Erica Nasstrom were both selected for a third year to the All-State Chorus and Nathan Berge will make his first appearance. Emily Maliszewski was chosen for the second time to appear with the All-State Band.

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