Working in one’s actual field of interest is a tremendous privilege these days. If dismal offerings from the Bureau of Labor Statistics aren’t enough to cement that fact, the preponderance of panicked “senior support group” flyers might also be an indicator; so, it’s heartening to meet a person whose career path blossomed because of their time at Mills.
For Megan March, music is more than a job. It’s her passion and her point of view. March, a Bay Area native, entered Mills already an artist and musician, and a misfit shaped by shows at Club Komotion in San Francisco and 924 Gilman in Berkeley. In 2005 she graduated from Mills with a degree in music and earned the prestigious Maurthea Friedberger Cup, awarded to the most outstanding senior music student.
Outside of the academic world, March also has credibility as a dedicated DIY punk musician: she books shows, contributes to the community and makes art that is both political and honest. Thanks to the unconventional babysitting efforts of an older sister who took her along to punk shows as a child, March has been punk for a long time. As an adult, she still keeps it real; at the very night of this interview she printed inspirational “KEEPIN’ IT REAL” posters on the letterpress. March’s commitment to her ethics, as well as her steady tough elegance, makes her a quintessential role model for unorthodox students.
While applying to colleges, March sought some of the foremost art schools on the east coast like Rhode Island School of Design, Sarah Lawrence and Barnard. But a fantastic scholarship and caring for her disabled father compelled March to choose Mills. She had some introduction to the school–March’s sister, who she idolized, had attended Mills for a semester.
Originally a studio art major, March spent a lot of time in the music department. She’d been drumming in the band Before the Fall since her entrance at Mills, and even played on campus a few times (in addition to places like basements, kitchens, bedrooms, backyards, rooftops, a Bart station, the Albany landfill, warehouses, Gilman, and even a bar, according to March). After Before the Fall went on a month-long tour, March returned and had a life-changing conversation with professor and composer Fred Frith.
“He asked why I wasn’t a music major, and I told him…I couldn’t even read a staff,” March said. “Well, that’s what we do here, we teach people how to do those things.”
Moved by the argument, March promptly switched majors.
“The interesting thing about studying music in an academic environment is that you don’t get to choose who you’re working with,” March said. This was especially apparent in Maggi Payne’s class, who is the music department head and center of contemporary music’s co-director. For a in-class recording assignment, she was elected to play drums for the class’s rendition of Prince’s “Purple Rain,” and with such a motley ensemble, the rendition was cheesy, according to March. March also thrived in courses with CCM co-Director Chris Brown, avant-garde Professor David Bernstein and romance/classics Professor Nalini Ghuman. March was a constant, fierce presence in the department, whether she was making the most of her practice space or recording in the studio on two-inch reel-to-reel tape. Her only regret is missing out on some of her drum lessons with renowned experimental percussionist Professor William Winant shortly after her father’s death.
March now lives in Berkeley. Ever the multi-instrumentalist, she plays drums and sings in the band Street Eaters and sings and plays guitar in another group called Wild Assumptions. On tour she has played all over the country and abroad in Europe and Japan. She hopes to one day tour in Australia. When she’s not on the road, March works as a professional sound engineer, sometimes using her Mills-hewn sight, reading skills to follow a score. But the net effect of her schooling is subtler. March describes the impact of her education as textural and dynamic. While schooling has made her confident, ultimately, March says she makes the music she makes out of innate desire.
“Mills was really good about not judging based on style, but rather moxie,” March said.
Evoking the eucalyptus-lined Eden in which we study, March gently reports that the outside world can be a cruel place. Students ought to harness the Mills experience in order to become a “badass who might make the world a better place.” March’s retrospective advice for her younger self resonates as having value across age and station. “Screw the heartache,” she said, “focus on making art and spending time with friends!”
We should all aspire to keep it so real.