Mills College, a small private women’s university in Oakland, California, announced this week that it will be completing its degrees. The school’s unique contemporary music center was a center for artists and composers to experiment and develop their skills. It was a support center for musicians in the Bay Area that included titans like Pauline Oliveros, Morton Subotnick, Anthony Braxton, and others. The institution cited “the economic pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic, changes in higher education, and Mills’ declining enrollment and budget deficits” as the rationale. According to Mills’ official statement, student admission will cease after the fall semester of 2021 and final degrees are expected to be awarded in 2023.
Mills College established its prestigious contemporary music center in 1966 – John Cage had pioneered a similar idea decades earlier while at Mills in the 1930s and 1940s, but there was no budget to make it happen. The contemporary music center grew out of the San Francisco Tape Music Center, founded independently by Mills employees Morton Subotnick and Ramon Sender five years earlier, before finding a permanent home in Mills. This is also where Don Buchla’s original Buchla 100 modular synthesizer, which the San Francisco Tape Center commissioned from the inventor, was located.
Pauline Oliveros, who worked with Sender and Subotnick as a peer to build the San Francisco Tape Music Center, was the first year director of the new institution. She later returned to college as a professor of composition for the last two decades of her life. Mills was also a professional and creative home for composer Robert Ashley, whose work changed the shape of opera in the 20th century.
Other notable music faculties at Mills included Anthony Braxton, Dave Brubeck, Luciano Berio, Terry Riley, John Bischoff, and Roscoe Mitchell. Participants and graduates of the music program include Laurie Anderson, Steve Reich, Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead, Holly Herndon, Chuck Johnson and Joanna Newsom (who was a student at Mills).