Donn Laurence Mills, chairman of the music department at Chapman College and founding music director of the Capistrano Valley Symphony, died Thursday of meningitis at his home here. He was 58.
Mills was the first full-time chairman of the Chapman music department. Before his appointment in 1986, the chairman split his time equally between administration and faculty responsibilities.
During his tenure at the campus in Orange, Mills initiated a series of new-music concerts and brought in the Southwest Chamber Music Society as a resident ensemble.
Mills held degrees from Northwestern University and the Eastman School of Music in New York. He had taught at several universities, including the University of Oklahoma, where he served as director of orchestras for eight years.
Before his appointment at Chapman, Mills was also affiliated for 13 years with the Yamaha International Corp. and the Yamaha Music Foundation. He directed the Yamaha Music Education Center in Irvine from 1983-86.
Mills founded the Capistrano Valley Symphony in January, 1985, to provide classical music for the valley communities. But the group quickly ran into money problems. To survive, the financially strapped organization eventually canceled several concerts and switched to a classical pops format. The orchestra recently announced that it would be re-emphasizing classical music, along with its pops format.
A concert scheduled for March 4 in Dana Point, which was to have been conducted by Mills, will be held with a guest conductor to be named later, an orchestra spokeswoman said Friday.
William Hall, a colleague of Mills who has served on the Chapman College staff and currently is music director for the Master Chorale of Orange County, said the chorale's performance Friday night at the Orange County Performing Arts Center would be dedicated to Mills.
A memorial service is planned at noon on Thursday at Chapman College. Mills leaves no immediate survivors.