Weaving Practice Into History: An Interview with Professor of Music Leta Miller

Photo of Leta Miller

Interviewed and Edited by Irene Reti

Photo by Sakura Kelly

181 pages


To read the full text and listen to an audio clip of Weaving Practice Into History: An Interview with Professor of Music Leta Miller (University of California Escholarship System)

The Regional History Project conducted this oral history with Leta Miller, Professor of Music, as
part of its University History Series. After earning a B.A. from Stanford University in music, an M.M
in music history from the Hartt College of Music, and a PhD from Stanford University in musicology,
Miller arrived at UC Santa Cruz in 1978. She began as a part-time lecturer, teaching a course in
chamber music literature at College Eight and offering flute lessons in a tiny room with no window
in the old music building. After several years teaching various classes for UCSC, including a music
history survey course, in 1987 Miller applied for and was hired for a tenure-track position in the
UCSC Music Department [then called the Music Board].

Miller is passionate about teaching, research, and performance. For many years she was a
dedicated professional player of Baroque, Renaissance, and modern flute. Her classes at UCSC
range from general education courses in music appreciation (which she confided are still her
favorite courses to teach), to advanced seminars in the compositions of Lou Harrison and
Renaissance performance practice.

In her narration Miller also reflects on the unique aspects of UC Santa Cruz she has experienced
over the past four decades: the Narrative Evaluation System, the boards of studies, the college
system, the focus on undergraduate education, and the emphasis on interdisciplinary studies.
She discusses the design of UCSC’s state-of-the-art Music Building, which opened in 1997. She
also explores the evolution of UCSC’s Music Department, including the unique backgrounds and
strengths of many of her colleagues, the birth of the MA, PhD, and DMA in music at UCSC, and the
development of the UCSC Orchestra, the UCSC Opera Program, and various student ensembles.

Miller found a true home in the UC Santa Cruz Music Department, which is dedicated to what
Miller called “this balance between the practical and theoretical.” Miller’s scholarly interests are
also diverse, ranging from Renaissance French chansons and madrigals; to music and politics in
San Francisco from 1906 until World War II; to the Jewish American composer Aaron Jay Kernis.
But she is perhaps best known for her scholarship on world-renowned composer Lou Harrison,
who resided in the mountains near Santa Cruz from 1953 until his death in 2003. An extensive
portion of this oral history is devoted to a discussion of Miller’s deep connection with Lou Harrison.
This part of the oral history illuminates Miller’s writings on this extraordinary composer, whose
archive is also housed at the UCSC Library’s Special Collections Department.