The organization that has provided live symphonic music in Lakeland for nearly six decades has a new leader. Lakeland native Ashley Miller has been named executive director of the Lakeland Symphony Orchestra.
“I am honored and humbled to have been selected to lead this organization and excited for the opportunities to dive into three things I am passionate about — music, people, and serving our community,” Miller said. “An incredible foundation has already been established within the symphony, and it’s important to me to continue that forward motion. It is my goal to share the symphony’s message that music is for everyone. Music is for all of us.”
Miller, 40, is a lifelong resident of Lakeland. Her parents, Linda Metts and the late Willie Metts, exposed their children to music starting at an early age. Ashley took piano lessons beginning when she was 8 years old and a student at Padgett Elementary and then Wendall Watson Elementary schools. She began playing the oboe at Lake Gibson Middle and High schools. As a marching chief, class of 2000, she also participated in the drum line.
“I told them when I interviewed that I played the oboe, but there will be no oboe playing from me,” said Miller, laughing. “There will be fundraising, but no oboe playing.”
She graduated in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Southern College, where her mother works as an administrative assistant. Her father had been a manager in Publix’s deli plant and had a band, The Rogues, for which Miller sang before he passed away in 1996.
Miller has been working as an account executive with MADE Brands in Lakeland. Previously, she held various positions for 11 years at Volunteers in Service to the Elderly (VISTE), including serving as its volunteer coordinator, as well as its community engagement director.
For many years the organization was known as the Imperial Symphony Orchestra, and Miller has fond memories of seeing its production of The Nutcracker each year, along with dancers from a local ballet company, and performing in The Singing Christmas Tree. But she said her favorite symphony memory came when she was the community engagement director for VISTE.
“We would match up volunteers with elderly clients — we would take them to a fancy dinner and then take them to the holiday concert,” Miller remembered. “One year, we had a man in his 90s who was brought to tears during the performance of “Silent Night.” I asked him afterwards and he shared with me that was the first live symphony orchestra concert he had been to in his life. To grow up around music and have the privilege and of experience live music since I was a child — that was so touching to me to know that music was inspiring people from little children to 99-year-olds.”
“We are absolutely thrilled to have Ashley take the helm of the LSO,” said Lori Powell, chairperson of the symphony’s board of directors. “It has been a long process finding the right candidate and with Ashley we feel certain that she will lead the symphony into the next season and well beyond with her knowledge of music, passion for people and love of her community. We couldn’t be happier!”
Miller is replacing Amy Wiggins, who held the position for seven years and is now heading the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce.
Miller loves the Lakeland community and volunteer engagement. She has participated in Leadership Lakeland Class XXXVI and the Wendell Watson Elementary School PTA, where she serves on the board of directors.
Her husband, Josh, is an industrial mechanic for Publix, and they have one son, Jack, who is 7.
LSO Music Director and Conductor Mark Thielen said he did not have Miller as a student when he taught at various schools in Lakeland, but he is glad to have her on board at LSO.
“Because Ashley has grown up in this community, she brings a familiarity on many aspects that contribute to the success of the symphony,” Thielen said in a statement to LkldNow. “I think she will bring a balance to both the business and artistic side of LSO. We enthusiastically welcome her to the family.”
The Lakeland Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1965 and defines its role in the community to “educate, entertain and inspire audiences and enrich the lives of the people of Polk County through the high-quality performance of symphonic music.” It achieves its goals by producing and presenting symphonic performances, ensemble concerts, school-based outreach, interactive family events, and an annual opera. Visit LkldSymphony.org for more information.
Kimberly C. Moore is an award-winning reporter and a Lakeland native. She can be reached at [email protected].