The master of arts program in composition at Mills has trained generations of composers from all over the world in the American experimentalist tradition. Composition students at Mills learn in a free-thinking environment that encourages creative work in a wide variety of styles. In addition to courses in orchestration, tonal and post-tonal analysis, and contemporary music criticism, they are encouraged to cross disciplinary boundaries and to pursue studies in special areas of interest that may include improvisation, indeterminacy, and environmental sound composition, as well as composing for dance and film.
Our core composition faculty, Fred Frith and Roscoe Mitchell, have won international renown as composers and performers in a terrain that covers the spectrum from conventionally notated work to a wide range of experimental practices. We regularly invite distinguished guest composers to teach at Mills, most recently Hilda Paredes and Zeena Parkins; and composition students may study electronic and computer music with faculty from the Center for Contemporary Music, the historic electronic music studio that has been a pioneering presence in American music for more than 40 years. Scholars David Bernstein, a specialist in the music of John Cage as well as the tonal theories of Arnold Schoenberg, and Nalini Ghuman, whose interests include post-colonial perspectives on musical Orientalism, nationalism, and cross-cultural musical exchange, also teach courses in the composition program.
To enhance our students' learning experience, Mills sponsors at least one visiting composer each year. Lou Harrison was the first Jean Macduff Vaux Composer-in-Residence in 1998–99, followed in consecutive years by Gordon Mumma, José Maceda, Bun-Ching Lam, Cecil Taylor, Meredith Monk, Terry Riley, James Tenney, Maggie Nicols, Helmut Lachenmann, Muhal Richard Abrams, and Julia Wolfe. In addition, current resident artists the Eclipse Quartet, a vibrant string quartet specializing in contemporary music, visit each semester to perform as well as work with student composers and musicians.