Studying at Mills College

November 22, 2006

I saw Maggi Payne's post mentioning that Mills is looking for women
students.  I deeply admire Mills College , so I thought I would add a few
thoughts of my own.  Abbie and I were resident artists there for six months
and know the department and school well.  I think I am biased in favor of
Mills, but I think the bias is justified.

I know that you are all constantly on the look-out for women students, but
Mills is especially worthy of our support.  Simply stated, there has been no
other institution in history that combines such a distinguished history of
teaching composition with such a deep devotion to the education of women.

Mills keeps a strong presence of women composers on its faculty -- the
general goal is 50% though that is sometimes not possible.  Maggi Payne,
Pauline Oliveros, Annie Gosfield, Joëlle Léandre, and Anne LeBaron are just
a few of the more prominent names who teach, or recently taught there.
Other faculty, past and present, include Darius Milhaud, Luciano Berio, John
Cage, Robert Ashley, Terry Riley, Dave Brubeck, Anthony Braxton, and Fred

Laurie Anderson, Steve Reich, Morton Subotnick and the director Sophia
Coppola are just a few of the more famous Mills graduates.

The undergraduate program is for women only.  Mills is by far the most
woman-friendly atmosphere I have ever experienced.  It is not just that
women are supported; there is a deeply intelligent celebration of the
feminine in life that is almost incomparable.

Mills has an extremely beautiful, wooded, 135 acre campus right in the heart
of Oakland .  Memories of the rows of ancient eucalyptus trees will be with
me for the rest of my life.  They also have many wonderful buildings,
including a spacious, light-filled library with an excellent collection.  I
practically lived in that library.  And the music department has excellent
electronic and multi-media studios where the students almost seemed to live.

Even if such evaluations are subjective, I think one could easily say that
Mills has one of the top ten electronic music programs in the country.  Its
name is respected around the world.  Mills thus has an excellent record of
placing students in the most prestigious Ph.D. programs -- UCSD and
Princeton are a couple recent examples I have noted.  The music department
also maintains close relations with UC Berkeley's CNMAT and Stanford's CCRMA
computer music research centers, both of which are nearby.

Something else I noticed is how dedicated the faculty is to teaching.  At
times it almost seemed too much to me.  They seemed to sacrifice so much of
their own time and interests for the sake of the students.

I know it seems astounding, but I think Mills grads more strongly influence
the Bay Area new music scene than any other school in the region, including
the San Francisco Conservatory, UC Berkeley, San Francisco State , and
Stanford.  I think this is because Mills' program is strongly focused on
contemporary performance practices.

I do not think it is at all an exaggeration to say that Mills has the best
program for free improvisation in the United States .  The department almost
hinges around improvisation -- a policy that goes back over 30 years.  At
the same time, Mills students can also get excellent traditional performance
training if they want, because Mills uses adjunct professors from the San
Francisco Symphony and the San Francisco Opera.  Abbie has a hotshot former
student doing grad work at Mills.  One day he is working with a prof from
the SF Symphony, and the next he is working on contemporary performance
practices with the legendary Fred Frith.

Another interesting thing I noticed is that Mills students seem to form such
long-term friendships.  It is a place where people seem to not only make
friendships for life, but also perform together for the rest of their lives.
One might also remember that the Bay Area is one of the nicest places to
live in America .  There is so much going on, and in an incomparably
beautiful natural environment.

Of course, Mills is probably not for everyone.  They try to tailor programs
to their individual students, but if you are a neo-Romantic composer, or if
you have avid far-right political views, Mills' notably liberal atmosphere
might not be the place for you.

I've written a couple reviews for the journal -21st Century Music- that
describe the sort of improvisatory music-making the Mills faculty is
involved in.  See:

Like all private colleges, Mills is expensive for undergrads, but I noticed
that the graduate program isn't so bad.  I think most could find a way of
attending, and I think that women in need are given close consideration for
financial support.

When Abbie and I were there it was a little disconcerting that there were
so few women in the music department's grad school.  The department has been
working hard to remedy that problem.  Mills is one of the greatest resources
for women in music that you have and should be one of your greatest sources
of pride.  I hope you will all continue to support Mills, and make sure
there is
a significant representation of women among its graduate students.

If you are looking for a great grad school, you should include Mills among
your applications.  If you went to visit the campus, I am sure they would
you around and tell you everything you needed to know. And if you are a
professor you should have your students consider Mills.

The Mills website it at:

Wiki has an interesting article about Mills at:

I'm sorry to be so partial, but it is a great place for women musicians (and
men too, for that matter.)

William Osborne