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Anna G. Larson, Published April 26 2014

Unleashed through music: Introverted child becomes confident musician, editor

FARGO - In first grade, Diane Miller was so shy and quiet her teacher assumed she was deaf.

“The teacher told me to take Diane to the hospital to have her ears checked because she’s deaf,” says Diane’s mom, Emy Miller. “I said, ‘No, she’s not. We talk to each other. That’s just the way she is. She won’t talk to strangers. As a teacher, you’re still a stranger to her.’ The teacher got mad at me and told me I wasn’t a good mother.”

Emy didn’t take Diane to the doctor – she knew her daughter could hear, talk and sing. She was just shy.

More than 20 years later, Diane’s proven her first-grade teacher wrong and conquered her shyness.

She raps with her hip-hop group D Mills & the Thrills and fronts alternative folk band Diane Miller and the Silver Daggers, in addition to singing with local reggae act Heavy is the Head and funky groovers O’ Fosho. And her day job as editor-in-chief of Fargo’s alternative publication the High Plains Reader keeps her name circulating in the community.

The once quiet 27-year-old woman has become a fixture in Fargo, and she says music empowered her to be confident.

“Playing music completely unleashes me in some crazy way that I can’t even describe,” Diane says.

In a music video for her band Diane Miller and the Silver Daggers, she says music is “mashed potatoes and gravy.”

“You could translate that into warm, and it makes you feel good. It’s home,” Diane explains.

Music has always been present in the Miller home. Emy, who was born and raised in the Philippines, remembers performing for houseguests as a child. She sings, as does Diane’s father, Mark Miller, and plays some guitar and harmonica. She and Diane often perform Filipino music together for international nights at local colleges.

But Emy’s favorite memory with Diane didn’t take place on stage.

“When Diane was learning to play guitar, she’d serenade me while I did the dishes,” Emy says. “One time my harmonica was in the kitchen so I stopped what I was doing, picked it up and we played together. There are no dull moments with us.”

The Millers aren’t afraid to dance, either. Emy and Mark frequently go out dancing, and Diane says she and her sister, Kate Noterman, inherited their love of movement from their parents.

“I think one thing that makes me a little bit different than some of the other girls or even local musicians is I love to move, and I love to dance on stage, especially in D Mills & the Thrills. I love hip-hop dancing,” Diane says.

Emy encourages Diane to dance during performances because “standing still is boring.”

“I told Diane I love her robot moves like Michael Jackson – keep going,” Emy says.

Bass player Jason Boynton, who’s in both bands led by Diane, in addition to Heavy is the Head, says Diane’s onstage presence and offstage personality are “night and day.”

“She can be very introverted. She’s in her own head a lot, but then she really can come out of it when she’s onstage,” Boynton says. “She gets into the character of whatever band she’s fronting that night.”

Christi Peterson, one of Diane’s guitar students at Marguerite’s Music in Moorhead, simply calls Diane a “cool chick,” adding that Diane’s taught her “Lola” by The Kinks, and Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide,” among other tunes.

“She has a great personality for teaching,” says Peterson. “Diane has an objective in beginning a song with me. She works through it, reinforces the learning and rechecks to make sure that before we finish something, we following through and I fully understand the chords, rhythm and timing. I’ve told her, ‘Diane, you are one cool chick.’ ”

Although Diane is confident in her musical abilities, she needed some guidance when she was promoted to editor-in-chief of the High Plains Reader in March 2013. Friend Bryce Haugen, a reporter for the Pioneer Journal in Wadena, Minn., helped Diane hone her editing and writing skills. Diane graduated from Minnesota State University Moorhead with a degree in music education and has no formal training in journalism.

“Some writers, you criticize their work and they get all defensive. She was like, ‘No, I want to learn how to do this. Tell me what I can do better,’ ” Haugen says. “Writing is a craft that requires practice, and it does require training, but it doesn’t have to go through the conventional means. You don’t have to take a bunch of classes on how to write. You learn how to write by reading a lot and by doing it a lot.”

In the two years she’s been editor, Diane says she’s experienced a few difficult situations, like when she wrote a feature about local guitar players and unknowingly left out a handful of talented musicians.

“I put out the feature, and it ended up being a disaster. It was the most stressful thing I’ve ever went through in my life. I was so naïve to how big our music scene is, thinking I knew so many great guitar players; well, there’s tons more,” she says.

Eventually, Diane wants to move to a larger city and concentrate on either music or writing. The rock star in her wants to focus on music; the more practical voice tells her to stick to writing.

For now, she’s happy sharing her music with Fargo and writing about the community.

“Realizing the talent and the creativity and the culture this town has is really amazing. I see that through being a musician, and I see that through being the editor of the HPR,” she says. “It’s really fulfilling.”

IF YOU GO

What: Diane Miller and the Silver Daggers performing at the Plains Art Museum’s 18th annual Spring Gala

When: 7 p.m. Saturday

Where: Plains Art Museum, 704 1st Ave. N., Fargo

Info: Tickets are $100; proceeds benefit the museum’s educational programs. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit http://plainsart.org.

ONLINE

Connect with Diane Miller and the Silver Daggers: www.facebook.com/dianemillermusic

D Mills & the Thrills: www.facebook.com/dmillsandthethrills


Readers can reach Forum reporter Anna G. Larson at (701) 241-5525