The industrious music man of Buffalo

UB exhibit showcases Cameron Baird's work to bring two renowned composers to UB


An alleged communist and an exiled German make up two historic chapters of UB’s Department of Music’s story. At the epicenter of these chapters, and the Music Department as it exists today, is Cameron Baird, the oldest son of an industrialist Buffalo family.

"Cameron Baird: Bringing Paul Hindemith and Aaron Copland to Buffalo” tells these two chapters through an exhibit of collected newspaper clippings, letters and other historical sources. The exhibit’s half-year stay in the Baird Hall Music Library, named for Cameron Baird, ended on Thursday.

“Baird could make things happen,” John Bewley, the exhibit’s curator and an associate librarian, told the UB Reporter. “He helped lay the groundwork for the department’s celebration and presentation of new music.”

In Baird’s pursuit to establish a reputation for the music department, he negotiated with Copland for three months to bring him to UB. Copland agreed and became the first composer appointed Slee Lecturer in Music in 1957.

Copeland’s arrival led to immediate controversy from locals – they were concerned over Copland’s alleged ties with the Communist Party and other communist organizations.

Copland was never an official member of the Communist Party, though he had been listed numerous times by the State Department as having communist sympathies. In 1953, amid the ongoing Red Scare, Copland testified before the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

The FBI further investigated Copland, which caused him to lose opportunities with the University of Alabama, the University of Colorado and the Los Angeles Chamber Symphony.

Baird wrote in a letter defending Copland that it was a “great surprise” Copland was having his “Americanism questioned.” He wrote that Copland wanted to “promote the cause of American music.”

Controversy aside, Copland’s appointment to UB was seen as a positive by professors.

In one letter, written to Baird from Dr. W. Leslie Barnette, Jr., professor of psychology, Barnette supported the appointment.

“You would find a lot of people here on campus who would feel as I do – and we’re delighted with the Copland appointment,” Barnette wrote in a letter on display as part of the exhibit. She also wrote “we’re very lucky to have Copland here.”

Before the Music Department was even created, Baird was working to build the music culture of Buffalo. He created the Buffalo Oratorio Chorus and co-created the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra in the 1930s.

The music department was started 12 years after Hindemith’s guest semester at UB in 1951. Baird was in charge of the department until his death in 1960.

Kyle Marquis, a sophomore aerospace engineer major, considers himself lucky to have seen the exhibit before it left.

“I decided to just do homework in Baird about three days ago and checked out the [exhibit] while I was there, and I ended up reading the letters and newspapers for almost a half hour before remembering I had work to do,” Marquis said.

In 1940, Baird brought Paul Hindemith, a German composer exiled from his homeland by the Nazis, to UB. Hindemith described Baird as the “heart and soul of musical affairs” and referred to him as his “musical grandchild.”

Bewley told UB Reporter there is no record that the university paid Hindemith to work on campus.

Ernst R. Voigt, former president of Associated Music Publishers, wrote in a letter that it was Baird himself who paid Hindemith his $1,500 salary.

Hindemith only taught one semester at UB.

Although the exhibit left Baird Hall on Thursday, it is viewable online.