The Atlanta Braves keep the tradition alive with tenor Timothy Miller singing “God Bless America” at every Sunday evening home game, even during the audience-less games of the pandemic. Miller, an accomplished opera and concert singer, will share this signature performance at a concert this Sunday with the Atlanta Pops Orchestra at the Roswell Cultural Arts Center. He joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes along with Kevin Leahy, drummer and executive director of the Atlanta Pops to talk about the Orchestra’s exciting repertoire and their return to live shows after a long hiatus.
The Pops were able to interrupt the long break with a few online streaming performances, but Leahy assures us there’s nothing like coming back to live audiences. “We pride ourselves on being able to pivot and being a nimble orchestra, that can sort of roll with the punches,” he said.
Both an administrator for the Orchestra and a virtuoso player in it, Leahy works to make the Pops a crowdpleaser from every angle. “I’ve been fortunate to have been playing drums with this orchestra for about 15 years,” said Leahy. “It’s not really a regular position in a symphony orchestra, but where this orchestra blends both the strings, brass, percussion and woodwinds of a typical orchestra with a jazz-pop rhythm section, I knew I really wanted to hold onto this position.”
He described the job of carrying on Pop’s illustrious legacy. “Discovering the history, that’s been the treat for me… and to see that back then it was new and different, and they were collaborating with the pop stars of those eras… Isaac Hayes in the ’60s, and James Brown in the ’70s, and Chet Atkins in the ’80s and ’90s, and to see those programs, and to see the advertisements for those shows was really inspiring,” said Leahy. “It put the question on me, ‘Alright, what does that look like today?’”
Among other things, it looks like Miller’s accomplished voice carrying the Pops through a diverse program of classics. “It’s certainly always a pleasure to be joining the Pops orchestra because I get the chance to sing things that I wouldn’t normally sing,” said Miller, “Popular well-known hymns like ‘How Great Thou Art,’ will certainly be a signature performance on the program. We’re also going to do, from the third act of Verdi’s ‘Rigoletto,’ we’re going to do ‘La Donna È Mobile…’ I’m also very excited to perform one of Ellington’s signature works, which is ‘A Train.’”
Timothy Miller will also perform his signature “God Bless America” on Sunday’s Roswell concert, a treat for those who haven’t been able to hit the Braves Stadium recently. “Interestingly enough, I was also able to do it during the pandemic, which was very strange, I must admit – seeing all the cardboard cut-outs in the stadium, it was very strange,” Miller recounted. “To be there by myself with basically only the grounds crew and the higher-ups in the stands; I’m glad to see fans back in the stadium.”
Such a diverse repertoire requires extraordinary versatility, as Miller must nimbly pivot from one style of singing to another. “It is a bit of a challenge, and I’ll tell you – it is more mental than anything. Fortunately, here in the States, we are trained in our undergraduate years… to have to perform a variety of repertoire on the same program,” he said. “Having to switch between languages and styles… It is tricky, but it is certainly doable, and something that I relish the challenge of.”
The Atlanta Pops Orchestra performs at the Roswell Cultural Arts Center this Sunday, Sept. 19 at 7:00 p.m. More information and tickets are available at https://www.roswellgov.com/discover-us/cultural-arts-center.