Weeki Wachee High School chooses band and choral directors

WEEKI WACHEE — He picked up a trumpet in fifth grade and now arranges and teaches music to students from around the country.

She attended rock concerts on her father's shoulders, inherited a love for choir and opera from her grandmothers, and has been named one of the top music teachers in Tampa Bay.

Michael Miller and Morgan Burburan found their passion for music at a young age. Now, they will build Hernando County's youngest high school music program from the ground up.

Miller, 23, has been tapped to serve as band director at Weeki Wachee High School, set to open in the fall. He is now a graduate student studying instrumental conducting at the University of Florida.

Burburan, who turned 32 on Friday, will be Weeki Wachee's choral director. She is in her third year as choral director at West Hernando Middle School.

"I've really been going back and forth between intense excitement and feelings of 'What have I done?' " Burburan said, laughing. "I can't sleep, I have so many ideas in my head."

Years from now, Weeki Wachee alumni and students cheering their Green Hornets will be reciting words and melody created by Miller and Burburan — they have been asked to collaborate with the community to write the school fight song and alma mater.

"It's initially very intimidating because it's such a big thing," Miller said. "It's very cool to think I'll be etching a little bit of history."

• • •

A New York native who grew up near Syracuse, Miller started playing the violin in second grade. The son of a computer technician and a photographer, he switched to the trumpet a few years later.

"I think it fit my personality better. It was louder," Miller said, laughing.

He worked his way up to the trumpet section leader in his high school marching band and also played in a jazz ensemble and a drum and bugle corps.

Miller found opportunity beyond the school band. He played mellophone for the Syracuse Brigadiers Drum and Bugle Corps from 2001 to 2005, and played lead trumpet and served as drum major for the Boston Crusaders Drum and Bugle Corps in 2006-07. As a member of the latter group, Miller performed in competitive pageants across the country in venues like the Rose Bowl and the Alamodome in San Antonio.

He went on to earn a bachelor's degree in musical education from Syracuse University, where he played trumpet in the marching and symphony bands and the wind and jazz ensembles.

Miller says he considered switching his major to musical composition, but stuck to teaching. He saw how the right mix of humor and professionalism in a leader can inspire students.

"My experience with my teachers inspired me to become a teacher," he said.

Miller, a teaching assistant in the band department, still composes, and his music has been performed by the marching bands at Syracuse University and the University of Florida. In February, the UF concert band premiered his composition based on folk tunes.

As Miller wraps up his master's degree this month, he also is working on purchase orders for Weeki Wachee. He's planning a full line of percussion instruments from snare to bass drums and wind instruments from piccolos to tubas.

He has yet to visit the massive school on U.S. 19 a few miles north of State Road 50, but he's seen the blueprints.

"I was blown away by the size of the band and chorus rooms and how much storage we have," he said. "These kids are going to be dealing with a top-of-the-line facility and equipment."

School officials expect an enrollment of 600 to 700 — all freshmen and sophomores — and Miller hopes to have a first-year program of 60 or so students for the concert and marching bands and jazz ensemble. He is reaching out to students, seeking candidates for leadership positions, and drumming up support for a booster program.

He can already envision his students scoring superior marks at competitions and assessments. But the underlying goal of music education goes beyond accolades, he said.

"I want the band program to help kids develop their life skills," he said. "Time management, organizational skills, leadership, the more intangible aspects."

Miller stood out among the 15 or so applicants, said Weeki Wachee principal Dennis McGeehan. His strength in the area of marching band was a big plus.

"His enthusiasm and love of music is something anybody who speaks to him will see right from the very beginning," McGeehan said. "He's somebody the kids will relate to well."

• • •

Born in Virginia and raised in Pennsylvania, Burburan moved to Florida just before high school. Her parents took her to see alternative rock bands like the Cure and the Psychedelic Furs.

Her grandmothers, she says, fostered her love for opera and choir.

"Between my parents and my grandmothers, I got a very well-rounded musical education," she said.

Burburan was studying the French horn at the University of Florida when her husband, Eric, now a sociology teacher at Central High School west of Brooksville, joined the Marines. She put her education on hold, and the couple started a family while he was stationed in Virginia.

The family moved to Spring Hill, and Burburan went back to school, earning a bachelor's degree in music education from the University of South Florida. She started in Hernando as a teaching intern.

Some teachers advised Burburan to get a job in a county where arts in education are a bigger priority, she recalls.

"I chose to be a part of the process to help the arts here in Hernando, and I've been really excited," she said. "I feel like the arts are expanding and growing and becoming more accepted."

West Hernando's choirs, ensembles and soloists racked up three dozen superior or excellent ratings this year. Burburan found out recently she is the University of South Florida Clarion Society's Music Teacher of the Year for 2010.

"Morgan is all about music and how music can help kids across academic lines for personal development," said West Hernando principal Rick Markford. "She treats every one of her students as if they were her own child."

Burburan is a performer in her own right. She won a best supporting actress award for her portrayal of Martha Jefferson in Stage West Community Playhouse's presentation of the musical 1776. Two months ago, while traveling with her daughter and the Nature Coast's Children Chorale, Burburan got a spur-of-the-moment invitation to sing Carl Orff's Carmina Burana at Carnegie Hall. She sang in Germanic Latin with just a day to rehearse.

Leaving the students at West Hernando will be tough, Burburan said, but she looks forward to guiding older students.

"At the high school level, they're starting to discover who they are," she said. "They're now starting to look forward to a career. I want to help set them on a career path and give them the tools they need to be productive members of society."

Tony Marrero can be reached at tmarrero@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431.

Fast facts

Michael Miller

Age: 23

Education: Bachelor's in musical education, Syracuse University; expects to complete master's degree in instrumental conducting at University of Florida this month.

Career: A graduate teaching assistant for UF bands.

Of note: A visual technician for the Blue Stars Drum and Bugle Corps in LaCrosse, Wis.; his original compositions have been performed by bands at both Syracuse University and UF.

Fast facts

Morgan Burburan

Age: 32

Education: Bachelor's degree in music education with a specialty in voice from the University of South Florida.

Career: Director of choral music, West Hernando Middle School, 2007-present.

Of note: Vice president of the Nature Coast Children's Chorale; a vocal team leader for Crosspoint Church, Brooksville.

Personal: Married, three children ages 12, 9, and 6.

Suggestions for Weeki Wachee's alma mater?

Burburan is seeking input from the community for lyrics to Weeki Wachee's alma mater and fight song. Contact her at (352) 797-7035, ext. 221, or burburan_m@hcsb.k12.fl.us.

Weeki Wachee High School chooses band and choral directors 04/03/10 [Last modified: Saturday, April 3, 2010 1:17pm]

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