Jay Miller’s early years were spent doing two things. Singing. Mainly in church choirs in the Mennonite community in Maryland where he grew up.

And helping people. He worked at a school for children with special needs and as an administrative assistant for a religious organization. He also worked as a carpenter, a builder and a baker.

Miller was in his early 30s — he’s now 48 — when he did some career counselling and the idea of speech therapy came up. It blended his knowledge of the voice and his desire to give help others.

He took an undergraduate degree in speech language and hearing science at Temple University in Philadelphia. While his classmates went on to further study in therapeutic work, he realized he’d yet to find the perfect career. “It was clear to me my interest in voice was more artistic than clinical. I was interested in working with normal voices, not sick voices.”

A professor suggested the master’s program at York University in theatre, where he could get a diploma in voice teaching at the same time. So, Miller came to Canada, and found himself studying theatre. “The acting part was odd,” he admits.

But Miller excelled at the voice work and went on to do contract teaching at York at Dalhousie University in Halifax. But it wasn’t what he really wanted to do.

“I finally decided to get serious and started a private practice and focus my attention on business and professional clients. And the rest is history.”

While Miller found teaching large classes exhausting, he’s invigorated by his hour-long one-on-one sessions with clients. People come to him to get rid of accents (a big part of his early work in private practice), learn to speak more slowly, or make their voices lower, stronger, less raspy or less nasal.

Most clients come for between a month and three months, and begin with a month of Miller’s basic voice and speech program. This involves not only speaking, but also stretching, moving and breathing — sometimes, Miller’s sessions resemble yoga classes.

“We get the body open and engaged, and the voice can become open and engaged too.”

While people often think he’s analyzing their voices at parties or over dinner, he rarely does. But when he’s working, he’s excellent at observing details: Miller can tell if someone’s not breathing properly by talking over the phone.

And while helping people speak better isn’t the same as social work, Miller says it satisfies his desire to help others in their lives. “You can’t uncover your whole voice without on some level discovering more of who you are.”