Kenneth (George) Mills. Conductor, composer, poet, lecturer, b St Stephen, NB, 25 Jan 1923, d 8 Oct 2004. Mills attended Mount Allison University and studied piano privately with Mona Bates in Toronto, Victor Babin in Aspen, Colorado, and Nadia Reisenberg in New York. After making Toronto and New York debuts in 1952 and 1962, respectively, Mills gave up his career as a pianist in 1965. Though continuing to teach and adjudicate until 1975, he devoted himself increasingly to giving lectures in Toronto and later throughout Canada, the US, and Europe, promoting awareness of the individual's inherent freedom as a conscious being, a philosophy possessing for Mills strong musical implications - 'the purpose of Music is to reveal to man his innate at-one-ment with a harmonic state of Being' ('Star-Scape Singers,' Canadian Composer, 206, Dec 1985).
His conviction that every human voice can be liberated to sing contributed to his founding in 1976 a ten-voice vocal ensemble, the Star-Scape Singers. The five men and five women, all students of Mills's philosophy and all possessing the extraordinary range and variety of timbre that are hallmarks of what Mills terms 'voices set free,' were 'hailed abroad and in the US as creators of a renaissance in choral art for their astonishing body of work that cannot be compared to anything else because it is so original - and which, touching on the instinctive, the primal, the intellectual and spiritual, leads one to a feeling of approaching cosmic awareness' (Performing Arts in Canada, Sept 1986). The Star-Scape Singers toured and broadcast extensively in Europe including the USSR, gave frequent concerts in Toronto and New York, and toured in Texas and Arizona.
Mills, in collaboration with choir member Christopher Dedrick, composed specifically for the choir, setting texts drawn from his own published poems to polytonal, polyrhythmic music rich in overtones, high-pitched harmonies, and evocative chords, and exploiting an impressive range of innovative vocal sonority. The Fire Mass combines texts of the traditional Latin ordinary with Mills's poetry and was considered the Star-Scape Singers' major work. The choir premiered it in New York's Carnegie Hall in 1986 and performed the work in Europe; a 1988 performance of it in Roy Thomson Hall was broadcast nationally by the CBC.
In 1996 Mills began to use MIDI keyboards to compose, doing so spontaneously, skipping the traditional notation phase. The resultant improvisational works stand part-way between the classical and new age genres.
Awards and Recordings
Mills received the Senate of Canada's award of excellence, a 1997 mentorship award, and other recognitions. A set of his lectures was published in Cornucopia of Substance (Toronto 2004). The film documentary The Rapture of Being: Three Days with Kenneth George Mills (Rhombus Media) was premiered in 1997.
Mills made several recordings with Sun-Scape Records, including the synthesizer instrumentals Let Robots Melt (1997, KMOD-035-2); Arrival of the Unexpected (1998, KMOD-036-2); and Promethean Fire (2000, KMOD-037-2). His orchestral compositions can be heard on Majestic Tonescape (2002, KMOD-044-2).