Published July 24, 2014
Few people have influenced and supported the Buffalo music community more than Cameron Baird (1905-1960), the elder son of a Buffalo industrial family considered by many the city’s “undersung hero of good music.”
A musician himself, Baird, along with Frederick C. Slee and then-UB Chancellor Samuel P. Capen, established the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra (BPO) in 1934 and influenced the hiring of such accomplished music directors as conductors Lajos Shuk, Franco Autori, Wilhelm Steinberg and the fondly remembered Josef Krips.
Baird also founded the Buffalo Oratorio Chorus, conducted the Buffalo Schola Cantorum for 10 years and went on to found the UB Department of Music in 1952, which he served as chair until his death.
To honor Baird, the UB Music Library has opened a new exhibit focused on one aspect of his work here. Titled “Cameron Baird: Bringing Paul Hindemith and Aaron Copland to Buffalo,” the exhibit details how he attracted two enormously gifted composers to the UB music faculty in eras colored by political conflict.
Curator John Bewley, archivist of the Music Library, says the display showcases letters, photographs, U.S. Senate hearing testimonies and newspaper articles that touch on Baird’s hiring of Hindemith shortly after the beginning of World War II and Copland, a victim of the “Red Scare” of the 1950s.
The exhibit in the Music Library, 112 Baird Hall on the UB North Campus, is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, through Oct. 30. View the exhibit online.
Baird operated the family-owned Buffalo Pipe and Foundry Co. with his brother, William, another UB supporter for whom Baird Point is named and to whom the Center for Tomorrow is dedicated. It was Cameron, however, who in 1959 secured the Baird Point pillars from the façade of the former Federal Reserve Bank, and the point itself was a gift from the Baird Foundation and the Jane and Cameron Baird Foundation.
An accomplished musician in his own right, Cameron Baird studied piano, viola and later composition with Bernhard Heiden and (according to some sources) Hindemith, and conducting with Bruno Walter and Felix Weingartner. On occasion, he played viola with the Buffalo Philharmonic.
When Baird was asked to design a music program for UB, he quietly toured university music departments across the U.S. and Canada to study their best practices.
Although he began with a small faculty and limited space, he continued to improve and enlarge the department, and attracted exceptional talent in composition, theory and performance.
“Baird could make things happen,” says Bewley. “For instance, and in one case despite controversy, in bringing Paul Hindemith and Aaron Copland — both brilliant and innovative composers — to the university, he helped lay the groundwork for the department’s celebration and presentation of new music, a tradition that continues to this day.”
Bewley says that in 1940, Baird convinced the UB administration to hire Hindemith as a visiting lecturer. A violist, theorist, teacher and conductor, Hindemith was among the most significant German composers of his time. He required employment in order to immigrate to the U.S. from Nazi Germany, which had banned his music and threatened persecution if he remained in Europe.
“There is no record in the University Archives that the university paid anything for Hindemith to work here,” says Bewley. “When people call and want to know about him teaching for the university, there’s a little bit of the question: Did he really work for UB?”
Bewley says the answer appears to be that while Hindemith did “work” for UB, he was not “employed” by UB. Baird paid him out of his own pocket.
In 1957, after the century’s “Second Red Scare” (1947-54), Baird named the prodigiously talented Copland as the first Slee Lecturer in Music. This was no mean feat.
Although Copland’s reputation in his field already was astonishing, like many progressive artists, teachers and intellectuals of his day, he had been widely and publicly accused of communist affiliation. For this reason, the performance of his composition “Lincoln Portrait,” due to be part of a concert held prior to but celebrating Eisenhower’s first inaugural in 1953, was cancelled.
Later that year, Copland was subjected to official grilling by Sen. Joseph McCarthy, chair of the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, during which he denied he was a communist himself and refused to name names.
Copland also was criticized for his real or imagined political leanings by Life magazine, at the time a major American publication that articulated the right-wing, anti-communist line taken by its publisher, Henry Luce.
In addition, he was blacklisted along with 151 composers, writers, artists, performers, directors and technical artists in the infamous publication “Red Channels: The Report of Communist Influence in Radio and Television.”
Excerpts of Copland’s Senate testimony are in the physical exhibit, along with copies of Life magazine and “Red Channels.” The full transcript of Copland’s testimony is on reserve in the library.
Only the cover of “Red Channels” is in the exhibit; a full copy can be found in the Poetry Collection.
Copland fared better professionally than did most others who were blacklisted, says Bewley, but his affiliations — real or imagined — remained a sensitive issue for years.
“As a result, there were definite repercussions from his hiring, given what people continued to claim about his political points of view. Cameron Baird stood up for him,” says Bewley. “His treatment of Hindemith and Copland provide the measure of the man, and his humanitarianism and courage in the face of political influences beyond the world of music.”
Beyond that, Bewley says, their hiring illustrates the precedent Baird established for the UB music department to teach, support and devote energy to the composers and performers of new music, which it still does.”
In fact, after his death, UB went on to became a center for new music, establishing the critically applauded Center for the Creative and Performing Arts’ Evenings for New Music (1964-1980), the very successful North American New Music Festival (1983-1992) and the internationally acclaimed JUNE in Buffalo Festival (now Institute), which is dedicated to the composition and performance of new music.
In addition, since its founding, the department has presented hundreds of concerts and recitals by many of the finest musicians and composers of new music in the world – not a few of whom were members of the faculty.
It is assumed by many that Baird Hall, the campus home of the UB music department, was named for Cameron Baird, who had done so much to establish and support it.
It is true that one is. The first Baird Hall (now Allen Hall) on the UB South Campus was named for Baird’s father, Frank Burkett Baird, ironmaster, civic leader, member of the UB Council and recipient of the university’s 1927 Chancellor’s Medal.
The full name of the second Baird Hall, dedicated on the North Campus, is the Frank B. and Cameron Baird Hall.