Ann Miles' healing journey through musicby Mona Prufer
Coastal Carolina University staff accompanist Ann Miles is getting the best Christmas present this year – a long-awaited CD that she recorded of all her favorite holiday arrangements.
“It’s so incredible to have this dream of 25 years come true after you’ve thought about it for that long, then finally decided to do it, then been sidetracked with a horrible accident, then have it actually happen for you,” says Miles, who confessed to bawling like a baby when she picked up a box of the Christmas CDs at the UPS warehouse in October.
“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is now available for sale, featuring 17 songs from “Jingle Bell Rag” to “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”
Miles will perform music from the CD as well as non-Christmas music at a free concert at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 16 in Edwards Recital Hall.
Two years ago, while traveling home from a conference, Miles fell asleep at the wheel and plowed into pine trees in the median on I-20 near Columbia. She had her cruise control set at 79 miles per hour, she believes. The car was totaled.
“It is a miracle that I am still alive,” says Miles, who has had a long, painful journey of recovery filled with occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, multiple surgeries and learning to walk again. Her 77-year-old mother, who was accompanying her to the conference, was taken by helicopter to the hospital that night. She was not significantly injured, but died of a stroke two months later.
Miles suffered a broken jaw, collapsed lung, six broken ribs, two fractured vertebrae, a broken left leg and severely dislocated right ankle. She was in the hospital trauma unit for 10 days, followed by two months of painful rehabilitation. It has been a long road back to being able to walk, teach, drive and play the piano again, but her message through it all is one of faith.
While at Health South in Florence (she called it “Hell South”), she was given “boring little tasks” for her physical therapy, like moving beads on an abacus from one side to the other. But when she spotted a piano, playing music became her new therapy. “It helped me, of course, and it lifted the spirits of others who were there.”
“You have to keep fighting,” says Miles, who has been CCU’s staff accompanist since 2002. “God continues to bless me as I give more and more over to Him. I’ve learned not to sweat the small stuff.”
Miles got her first piano, a wooden toy, when she was a year and a half old. At 4, she progressed to an old upright player piano where she would pick out nursery rhymes like “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” Now she plays by ear, sight reads and plays pieces by heart, especially her favorite Christmas carols.
When she auditioned for the accompanist job eight years ago, she was given several difficult classical pieces to sight read and play. “Philip Powell was turning the pages for me, and David Bankson kept handing him harder and harder pieces,” she says. “I thought I was not going to get that job.”
Before joining the CCU faculty, Miles was founder and director of Young Singers of Darlington, an auditioned group of 4th- through 8th-grade students from the area. Under her direction, the chorus played around the state of South Carolina and even at Carnegie Hall in New York City.
Now she’s founded the Coastal Children’s Choir, a choral group for the unchanged voice, which had 26 members last fall and performed countywide. Local auditions were held recently for the mixed choir of boys and girls, and her goals are high for the group.
“To be a member of this type of choir means you can be exposed to music on a whole new level,” says Miles. “Singers learn to mark their music for breaths, proper pronunciation, etc., and also learn to read it! They learn music skills that pianists and high school chorus students learn; they even learn music theory that freshman music majors study.”
Miles earned a bachelor of music degree in church music from Appalachian State University. She is organist for First Baptist Church of Conway and has accompanied concert performances throughout the United States and in Brno, Ostrava, while touring the Czech Republic in 2004.
She now makes herself available for inspirational talks to community groups to spread her newfound message. “My message is one of hope to those who hear my music, and my story is that God will make a way, and He will see you through whatever He brings you to!”