When Gina Miller was a little girl, her father would put on music when it was time for her to go to bed.
Her family lived in a town house, and they shared a wall with next-door neighbors who argued loudly. Miller’s father played music to drown out the abrasive fighting at bedtime.
Miller would listen to every word of the music, carefully analyzing what the lyrics meant to her.
Her dad recognized the way she connected with the music. As she studied for a test, he encouraged her to make a song out of facts she needed to memorize.
“Music has always been the way to get my undivided attention,” says Miller, a Lancaster nurse-turned-country music artist. She’ll celebrate the release of her sophomore EP “Angel from Montgomery,” featuring the John Prine classic, with a record-release show Sunday at Garden Spot Fire Rescue, with her band Division Highway.
In addition to music, Miller also found an early passion of taking care of people. Her father was sick throughout her childhood, so she often stayed home to help him. She journaled about how seeing her dad sick made her feel — an activity that acted as a precursor to her songwriting.
“I was afraid to leave him,” Miller says. “So instead of showing him that I was nervous and crying, I would write stuff down.”
She found fulfillment working as a candy striper at a hospital in her hometown of Downingtown, and later as an EMT. Most recently, Miller worked as a nurse at the Technical College High School Brandywine Campus in Downingtown.
When her father was dying, she made one last request to him.
“I just remember telling my dad, ‘When you get to wherever you’re going, which I know is a direct beeline to heaven, just figure out a way to let me know,’” Miller says.
After telling her father that, Miller fell asleep at his bedside. By the time she woke, her father had passed.
She got in a car to drive home from the hospital, and “To Where You Are,” by Josh Groban, came on the radio.
“A breath away’s not far to where you are,” Groban sings.
It was the sign she needed.
“I knew it was my dad,” Miller says. “He’s letting me know, he’s already here.”
Miller wrote her first song about that experience — “Footprints.”
Miller sang at churches, at weddings and in parades while participating in a community choir and church guitar group in Lancaster. She decided she wanted to take her musical endeavors to the next level so, in 2006, she attended a songwriter conference in Nashville.
At that conference, she made two important connections — the father-in-law of Linda Davis, one-half of the country music duo Skip & Linda and the mother of Lady Antebellum singer Hillary Scott. Davis’ father-in-law worked as a driver for the van service Miller and her friend used.
Miller also met the late producer John Stoecker, who helped encourage her to continue with music.
In 2009, Miller encountered her first of a series of major obstacles — she got into a car accident in New Holland, and it took her two years to fully recover.
She got into another wreck in Downingtown in 2012. Her pacemaker moved from its position and hit her collarbone, damaging it. Miller underwent heart surgery in 2013, and while recovering from that her vehicle got T-boned in Ephrata after a recording session.
She was knocked unconscious and was trapped in the car. The third accident left her with severe head injuries, but she continued to work for a year as a school nurse, never giving herself the chance to fully heal. Miller is now on a leave of absence from her job.
“My short-term memory went down the tubes,” Miller says.
While in physical rehab, she got an offer from the independent Nashville label Playback Records. Miller says her therapists at Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital helped her relearn her songs to record her EP so she could accept the offer.
“They said, ‘It’s funny, the music just does something to you,’” Miller says. “ ‘You get the glimmer in your eye.’”
She says that during that time, she connected with Prine’s song “Angel from Montgomery,” which her band had suggested they cover.
“That song, to me, ‘flying away,’ it’s not about how John Prine wrote the song,” Miller says. “It’s about these injuries are driving me crazy. I want to be out of physical therapy. I want to fly out of this.”
Miller says music has been a monumental part of her recovery process. Just as she takes care of people as a nurse, she hopes her music can have a similar effect.
“Music is a beautiful thing. As a nurse, I feel like I’m providing a healing aspect for people,” Miller says. “Everybody has something going on in their life. Everybody is going through something that you know nothing about. I want my music to touch people.”