Mike Mills And Robert McDuffie Bring Their Music Home

Nov 3, 2016

When they were both kids growing up in Macon, R.E.M. bassist Mike Mills and classical violinist Robert McDuffie bonded over Hardy Boys books and shared records.  When they weren't making music together at church, anyway. 

"When my family moved here from Atlanta in 1971 my parents were looking for the best musical program in any church here," Mills said. "And the church that they found that had the best musical program was run by Bobby's mother."

The friends listened to records or watched TV together Sunday nights after church. That changed in their teen years. 

"I got shipped off by my parents to Juilliard," McDuffie said. "They sent me off when I was 16 with the idea that I'd give it a year." 

McDuffie stayed in New York after all. Mills left for Athens in 1979. Then one night McDuffie got a call from his old friend. 

" 'Bobby! I'm in a band! And it's called R.E.M.!' " McDuffie remembered Mills saying. It was the band's first trip to New York and Mills wanted McDuffie to hear what he had been up to. The only problem? The show started at 1 a.m. and McDuffie had a class seven hours later.

"And I'm going 'So I hope you do well, I hope your little band just grows and grows,' " McDuffie told Mills. 

The band did, of course, as did McDuffie with a career of international performance and close relationship to the music of composer Philip Glass. Today the Robert McDuffie Center for Strings at Mercer University in Macon teaches students who 45 years ago may have been McDuffie's classmates at Juilliard.

Now McDuffie and Mills are touring the "Concerto for Rock Band and Strings" written by Mike Mills for his old friend. In this video piece, hear more from both musicians about growing up in Macon and the idea behind the concerto.