Billy Miller took the stage Sunday for his last performance playing percussion with the Bangor Symphony Orchestra to a standing ovation and a wardrobe problem.
“I’ve got a bit of a situation,” he told the audience at the Collins Center for the Arts. “I couldn’t find my suspenders, so I’m having to hold up my pants with my hand.”
Miller, 87, took the stage clutching the waistband of his tuxedo pants.
The audience, members of the orchestra and Conductor Lucas Richman all laughed as Miller described his dilemma with his usual self-deprecating sense of humor. He managed to play the big bass drum for Robert Browne Hall’s “Greeting to Bangor” without a wardrobe malfunction.
The former owner of Miller Drug joined the orchestra in 1957 when he returned to Bangor after graduating from pharmacy school in Boston. After 65 years with the orchestra, he retired Sunday in a moving tribute during the final concert of the BSO’s 126th season that pulled in its largest audience since before the pandemic.
During more than six decades with the orchestra, Miller has seen it grow from a community orchestra to a professional one. The percussionist likes to boast that he never had to audition as new members do today. He served under seven of its 10 conductors.
“Each one of them took us another level up,” he said in a video shown Sunday.
Miller not only performed with the symphony, he has served on the board, as personnel manager, fundraiser and problem solver.
“”He remains the BSO’s most steadfast cheerleader and his generosity is unmatched,” read a tribute in the concert program. “He has been known to buy and give away concert tickets to those who may not be able to attend, [secure] funds for needed percussion instruments for the orchestra and youth orchestra, [sponsor] guest artists, and so much more.”
To mark his 50th anniversary with the orchestra, it raised $200,000 to endow the principal percussion chair in his honor.
Timpanist Nancy Rowe holds that chair. She said that Miller’s greatest contribution to the orchestra was heart.
“He puts his heart into the music, whether he plays it right or wrong,” she said.
Miller, whose wife, Gloria Miller, died in January 2021 at the age of 84, will continue to perform with the Bangor Band, which will celebrate its 163rd season this summer.
Sunday’s concert included Antonin Dvorak’s “Carnival Overture,” Alexander Borodin’s “Polovtsian Dances” and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, with soloist Robert Plano at the piano.
It was a rousing and lively mix of joyful music that brought the audience to its feet more than once.
Plano’s finger seemed to fly across the keys as the rhythm of the piece accelerated, moving from eighth notes, to triplets, to sixteenth notes, and finally to a scale that rushed downward in sixteenth-note sextuplets.
As an encore, Plano played an even faster and jazzier piece, “Play Piano Play No. 6, Toccata” by Friedrich Gulda, in which his hands were a blur.
The symphony will announce its 127th season in mid-May.
Sunday’s concert may be streamed beginning Tuesday at w atch.bangorsymphony.org.