Student Profile: Steven Mills
Performing in front of a packed audience at the Berklee Performance Center is undoubtedly a dream for many students. While Steven Mills shares that aspiration for conducting his compositions, he's quite happy in a dimly lit, empty BPC composing his pieces at the concert grand piano.
Mills, who works as a stage crew supervisor for the Office of Concert Operations, says that's the way he likes to work. "It's a great quiet place with a great piano. It reminds me of home a bit," he says. Home is Conyers, Georgia, where the composition major got his start. He has been composing music since second grade, inspired by the material he learned for the Atlanta Boy Choir, which he sang with from ages 5 to 12. "It was really great repertoire," Mills says.
He recalls the first time it all really clicked, when his elementary chorus teacher sat down with him in fourth grade and guided him in getting his thoughts down on paper. "I knew how to read music but I didn't really know how to write it down," says Mills, who had previously composed the pieces in his head. "That was my first major step, I think. I continued writing piano pieces until high school, and then I realized it was something I was really interested in as we figure out career choices."
In the meantime, Mills garnered recognition and awards, and became very involved in the music scene at his high school, playing saxophone and piano, and singing and arranging for the chorus. The summer before his junior year, he attended a six-week program at Brevard Music Center in North Carolina. "It was a wake-up to the college education environment for composition, which was great," he recalls. The following summer, he went to Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester in New York. "Once again, it was just a phenomenal experience."
After studying composition at Oberlin College in Ohio for two years, Mills came to Berklee to add film scoring to his field of study. "I wanted to bridge between commercial and classical but yet still continue with the classical," says Mills. "I am foremost a composer. The technical side of film scoring is also interesting to me, but the compositional side is my strength and background. As a dual major at Berklee in composition and film scoring, I have combined the best of both worlds."
"I would like to pursue a career in film scoring, and at the same time, keep going with classical composing, getting commissions from ensembles, etc.," Mills said. "I think if some of the great composers of earlier days were living in the time that film is at its peak now, they would definitely be writing for movies and continuing to do their other work."
Within the Composition Department at Berklee, professors have been instrumental in helping Mills find his voice in composing, in large part by studying the masters. "You take what you know from the people whose work you admire and the tools they used to accomplish what they did," he says. "You can put those tools in your own toolbox so that you have more ideas and concepts to pull from."
While Mills credits Berklee and Oberlin for shaping his writing, his musical path can be traced much further back. He counts his late grandmother—a classically trained vocalist who at age 16 had her own radio show and entertained World War II troops—among his greatest influences. "She always had music playing at her home," he recalls. "She sang to me constantly when I was growing up and encouraged me to pursue my musical goals. Music connected us on a different level that we both understood."
The Atlanta Boy Choir and its founder/director Fletcher Wolfe also figured prominently in his musical trajectory. "Those seven years of classical training with numerous performances both nationally and abroad set the stage of my early musical development," he says.
Meanwhile, amid his own musical development, Mills found a way to share his gift. While in high school, he founded and directed the musical performance group Friends 'N Harmony, an organization that performed at community events and for kids living with cancer. "That was a major part of my life. It was very eye-opening for me."
After Berklee, Mills hopes to attend a graduate program in film scoring and land a job in the industry, as well as maintain a presence in the concert scene as a composer. But no matter where he lands, one thing is certain: Mills has music in his future. "I've never known a part of my life that wasn't somehow connected with music or pursuing musical goals," he says. "Music is truly what makes me who I am."
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