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Long-time coordinator, director brings musical talent to Mills

Steed Cowart, the Concert Coordinator and Co-Director of the Contemporary Performance Ensemble at Mills has been at the college for 27 years.

Steed Cowart conducting CPECowart works with established musicians visiting Mills as the concert coordinator, and works with up and coming musicians as the co-director of the contemporary performance ensemble.

“I got my foot in the door and never left,” Cowart said about his 27-year long career in the Mills College music department. “I came here as a one semester sabbatical replacement, and they couldn’t get rid of me.”

Cowart sits on a committee at Mills, which decides who will perform on campus, and once performers are determined, Cowart, as the concert coordinator, makes the arrangements for them at Mills.

“The overwhelming majority of musicians I’ve worked with here have been both wonderful people and wonderful musicians — makes it even more fun” Cowart said.

Cowart said he enjoyed spending time with experimental performance artist, composer and musician, Laurie Anderson, who performed at Mills on Oct 30, 2012.

It took several years to be able to book Anderson, who attended Mills for a year in 1965.

It took so long to book Anderson “not because she didn’t want to perform here, but because of her schedule,” Cowart said.

While Cowart has enjoyed working with many musicians who have performed at Mills, he also greatly liked working with experimental composer Christian Wolff, composer and performer Meredith Monk and experimental composer Alvin Lucier.

Cowart’s enthusiasm for music and Mills isn’t just confined to working with visiting musicians, he works with Mills’ own musicians by conducting the Contemporary Performance Ensemble.

He is very dedicated to his students and it is not unusual for him to go out of the way to help a student.

“He’s very persistent about helping students,” said first year student Tess Bates, who was in the ensemble last semester. “He’s a really funny and great guy.”

Both graduate and under graduate students love Cowart’s enthusiasm for music and his constant willingness to work with students.

“If he has time to talk and develop relationship with you…I just drop in any time and we can talk for an hour,” said music graduate student Julie Moon.

Cowart would love to see his ensemble go out and perform at more venues besides Mills. Last year they performed as part of music circus, based off of John Cage’s idea of a music circus, which is a number of pieces being performed at the same time, at the Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. They have also performed at UC Santa Cruz and the Berkeley Art Festival.

Overall, Cowart loves Mills.

“Mills is a great place to be!” Cowart said, “It has a long history of composers being here. And there’s mostly goodwill between faculty and students…which you don’t see at all colleges.”