The Mills College Music Department and Center for Contemporary Music must be protected

The Mills College Music Department and Center for Contemporary Music must be protected

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Save Mills College Coalition started this petition to The Mills College Board of Trustees and

Thus far, the Board of Trustees has not engaged in discussions with music faculty, staff, alums, and students about how it both acknowledges Mills’s irreplaceable musical legacy, or how it will seek to incorporate music education into any future plans for a Mills institute. Our conclusion at present is that the proposed Mills Institute will not include music in its mission.

We are therefore writing to request that the Mills College Board of Trustees and President Hillman begin immediate and open talks with the Music Department and Center for Contemporary Music (CCM) to determine how it will preserve the international, nearly three quarters of a century-old legacy of contemporary music, supported, proliferated, and created by its current and former faculty, staff, students, and alumnae/ni community.

The devastating decision to cease operations as a degree-granting institution will deprive future generations of creative musicians of both a leading space for experimental musical research and development and the country’s most successful training ground for new music practitioners. Immediate talks are requested to determine how to bridge the gap.

The Music Department and CCM have an illustrious international reputation for a progressive, experimental, innovative, and open-minded approach to art and technology. It is impossible to overstate the importance of the Music Department at Mills College in the development of American music over the past 90 years. With the addition in 1966 of the former San Francisco Music Tape Center—now CCM—Mills College became a global magnet for composers, musicians, and trend setters re-shaping the world of music. Researchers, artists, historians, executive leaders, rely upon Mills Music as source material and to proliferate new and expansive efforts in contemporary music.

It is unclear that the Board of Trustees is fully aware of the importance of this legacy, and understands the power of its programs to attract students over the past decades. It has not communicated that it understands the weight of its intentions to cease to grant degrees in music. Talks are essential to begin collaborative efforts immediately.

The Music Department faculty, alum, and former staff list is a roll call of key figures in modern and experimental music and performance, from household names such as Dave Brubeck and John Cage to many others who have been powerfully influential within fields spanning from dance to film, and technology.

Dating back to the 1930s, when the Music and Dance Departments worked closely together, John Cage, Lou Harrison, and Henry Cowell created an entire movement of percussion music, using unconventional instruments to accompany choreographic projects by both students and faculty.

In the late 1940s, student Dave Brubeck revolutionized jazz after honing his compositional skills with the great French composer Darius Milhaud at Mills.

In the 1960s, Steve Reich became an icon of American music after being encouraged by faculty composer Luciano Berio to stop conforming to prevailing dissonant styles and pursue his interest in minimal, consonant forms.

In the 1970s, Suzanne Ciani, one of the most prominent 20th century synthesizer composers and a five-time Grammy nominee, first became prominent as a composer of electronic meditation music after working in the studios at CCM.

A partial list of former and current faculty includes dozens of prestigious composers. An abridged list of some of the most prominent includes Pauline Oliveros (an early adopter of synthesizers), Terry Riley (a leader of the minimalist movement), Robert Ashley (who redefined “opera,” wrote and composed over 20 of them, and revolutionized the art of video interviews), David Behrman (early adaptor of computers and interactive programming in music), Maggi Payne (composer/video artist extraordinaire), Anthony Braxton (composer/improviser/performer), John Bischoff (computer music composer/performer, co-founder of the network band The Hub), Chris Brown (composer, pianist, and electronic musician), William Winant (master percussionist), Fred Frith (composer and multi-instrumentalist), Tomeka Reid (composer, improviser, cellist), Alvin Curran (composer, performer, and improviser), Joëlle Léandre (double bassist, composer, improviser), Roscoe Mitchell (founding member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Music and the Art Ensemble of Chicago), Zeena Parkins (electro-acoustic composer / improviser), and Laetitia Sonami (computer music/neural networks, famous for her “Lady’s Glove” controller). For more, one only has to enjoy a cursory Google search to discover the fertile ground that is Mills Music. For example, a recent documentary Sisters with Transistors features many women composers who were engaged in significant creative work at Mills. 

Mills Music has included award-winning composers who merited honors from the National Endowment for the Arts, Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grants to Artists Award, Guggenheim Fellowship, MacArthur Fellowship, DAAD (Germany), Fromm Foundation, Mellon, Doris Duke, and many others.

Faculty members have released well over 1,000 works and have collaborated extensively within the College, across disciplines, often with students, and beyond. The influence of the Mills faculty and their students has been enormous, throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, nationally, and internationally. Mills music faculty have also taught generations of students who have become innovative composers, performers, executives, and engineers, who have kept its traditions alive as they in turn find success and influence in fields from music to technology to film.

The Music Department and CCM have also offered an extraordinary space for students—both those who deliberately sought them out and those who stumbled across them —to explore and develop in tandem and in collaboration with faculty and staff. Their historic legacy, including its archives and instruments left by previous members, are an invaluable resource open to all.

To lose this thriving musical legacy, collective knowledge, and history would be both a tragedy for the development of music around the world and a missed opportunity for College as it looks forward to its future.

We urge the Board and Trustees to meet with the Music stakeholders in open and transparent talks immediately. The position of the Music Department and CCM is to retain its ground-breaking status, ideally as a part of a degree-granting institution for undergraduate and graduate students. or, as a last resort within a Mills Institute that embraces both teaching, performance, and research. 

Please contact Professor David Bernstein, Head of the Music Department as soon as possible to arrange a meeting to discuss the concerns raised in this letter.

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