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.