June in Buffalo
Nearly every day of the festival, participants have 12-hour long schedules to keep, but lunch breaks and down time keeps abuzz with opportunities to catch the ear of faculty composers and meeting new colleagues. Friendships can blossom in this intense environment, and you’ll always have the June in Buffalo experience to bond over. The social aspect of the festival provides some of the lighter moments of the week. Sometimes it’s surprising what extramusical topics famous composers can expound on—and June in Buffalo is the place to discover that someone like Brain Ferneyhough knows a lot more about professional wrestling than you.
Once, when the subject of all-time favorite pieces of music was casually being discussed, Christopher Rouse declared that his was Carmina Burana, which made Alvin Lucier laugh until he cried. Irreverent moments such as these can invade the masterclasses as well. Last year during a Q&A, a student asked Charles Wuorinen why the book he wrote was titled Simple Composition. “Because it’s simple,” quipped Wuorinen. And if you’re looking to hunt down more of those gem-like, sensationalistic Morton Feldman anecdotes, just ask the locals—there are sure to be some zingers still being passed around campus.
In a way, June in Buffalo is a temporary microcosm of the whole new music industry—a shorthand version, if you will. Except conversations can linger on longer, and given the fact that everybody is in close quarters, access to performers is easier, and there’s certainly a lot of music being performed to use as conversations starters.
The goings-on inside the dormitory are a whole other ballgame. This is where a majority of the participants have the can-you-believe-they-said-that conversations over beer and wine—a typical version of this being an elder’s disdain for, say, popular music. But the shenanigans don’t stop there. No. Not when there’s access to billiards and ping-pong tables. Games and conversations go late into the morning hours, and this is where the bonding takes place.
Among the 2007 June in Buffalo participants there seemed to be a particularly good vibe. Self-organized trips off campus to other parts of Buffalo, and even Niagara Falls went off without a hitch, aside from some very heavy thunderstorms. John Harbison noted that “some of them are getting along well with each other, I think. I get a good feel.” But it’s not just the student-participants that get to enjoy a high level of collegiality, Harbison also pointed out that one of the reasons he returns to June in Buffalo is due in part to the other faculty composers. “It’s really just reconnecting with people that I’m always glad to see. I’m always interested to hear what music they are presenting and what’s being played—that is part of the attraction to come.”
Of course the work-to-play ratio is stacked heavily against the recreational, but with all the serious concentration and listening, June in Buffalo is ultimately a playground for contemplation, understanding, and learning. It’s a long, hard week of over-stimulation, but in a good way. Charles Wuorinen admits it. “It’s a lot of work for us, and a lot of running around. It’s hectic. That’s it.”