ONCE Group

ONCE Group

The ONCE Group was a collection of musicians, visual artists, architects, and film-makers who wished to create an environment in which artists could explore and share techniques and ideas in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The group was responsible for hosting the ONCE Festival of New Music in Ann Arbor between 1961 and 1966. It was founded by Ann Arborites Robert Ashley, George Cacioppo, Gordon Mumma, Roger Reynolds and Donald Scavarda.

During the years the festival was active, a number of avant-garde composers’ works were performed. Composers represented include: Robert Ashley, Pauline Oliveros, David Behrman, George Cacioppo, George Crevoshay, Donald Scavarda, Roger Reynolds, Gordon Mumma, Bruce Wise, Robert Sheff (a.k.a. 'Blue' Gene Tyranny), and Philip Krumm. The compositions and the performances pushed the limits of expectation and served as a laboratory for the development of new approaches in both acoustic and electronic music.

"ONCE turned out to be a festival in which we presented in the best way we possibly could with limited resources both our own music and the music of others we thought was really important to be heard. The people who were most interested were [the ONCE composers]. But it certainly was clear––we literally called it ONCE assuming that it would not happen more than once––when there was such remarkable intensity in those events, that there was something there that was more than just a personal interest or need on our parts." --Roger Reynolds

ONCE is a perplexing name for a multitude of events that happened in many places and forms throughout the 1960s. What started as the ONCE Festival of Musical Premieres in February and March of 1961 turned into the six-year-running ONCE Festival, with many derivatives including the ONCE Group (a theatrical ensemble), ONCE Friends, ONCE AGAIN, and the Ann Arbor Film Festival in Ann Arbor. Other festivals across America and North America, including New Dimensions in Music in Seattle, New Arts Workshop in Tuscan, Bang Bang Bang Festivals in Richmond, and Isaac Gallery Series in Toronto, modeled themselves after ONCE.

ONCE’s organizers were five composition students of University of Michigan School of Music composition professor Ross Lee Finney (1906–1997) and visiting professor of composition Roberto Gerhard (1896-1970): Robert Ashley, George Cacioppo, Gordon Mumma, Roger Reynolds, and Donald Scavarda. By 1957, all of these composers were residing in Ann Arbor and were becoming acquainted with each other, if they weren’t already.

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Gathering of students of Roberto Gerhard, Ann Arbor, 1960 (Bottom, l-r): Leslie Bassett, Ralph Bassett (son); (2nd row, sitting): Roger Reynolds, Roberto Gerhard; (3rd row, squatting): Robert Ashley, Sherman Van Solkema, David Bates, (sitting) Leopoldina Gerhard, Anita Denniston Bassett; (standing in back): George Cacioppo, Ed Coleman, Tom Schudel.



Milton Cohen’s Space Theater was probably the earliest catalyst for ONCE. Milton Cohen (1924–1995) became assistant professor of art at the University of Michigan in 1957. He was best known as a painter in the 1950s, but was becoming increasingly interested in art using light. In a 1963 article in Dimension magazine, a University inter-arts faculty publication, Cohen expressed his interest in art as performance: “I have urgently felt the need for stretching imagery into a format of presentation in real time, real motion, real space.” In 1957 Cohen rented a studio space in Ann Arbor and, collaborating with colleague George Manupelli (b. 1931) and an architecture graduate from the University, Henry Borkin (b. 1934), he began constructing his Space Theater: a twenty-sided hemisphere fifty feet in diameter that would be equipped to manipulate light in an interactive setting. Cohen's goals were remarkably similar to some of the future ONCE composers’ goals and ideals for their festival:

  • To exploit contemporary technological means to broaden mystery and subvert the machine.
  • To shrink distance between artist and spectator, spectator and spectacle.
  • To suggest a museum of creative presence, of living performance, of spontaneous action.
  • To machine a tool for visionary exploration.
  • To score music, light, poetry, dance, with a single notational system, thus pressing a unitary vision.

To create a lightshow, Cohen used a variety of light-projecting and light-manipulating devices such as slide and movie projectors, prisms, filters, projectors, a color wheel, a variety of lenses, and mirrors. To create a multidisciplinary performance, Cohen was convinced that electronic music would be the best sonic counterpart to the visual component, and he connected with two of the future ONCE composers: Robert Ashley (b. 1930) and Gordon Mumma (b. 1935). Using a variety of equipment such as amplifiers, oscillators, filters, and four-track tape recorders, the two men formed the Cooperative Studio for Electronic Music and began composing electro-acoustic music for over one hundred Space Theater performances presented between 1958 and 1964.

In 1958, composer Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928–2007) lectured at the University and provided some forewarning insight about the future of new music. Finney held a gathering at his home for his students to meet Stockhausen, who was enormously popular with the young composers. At the gathering, Stockhausen encouraged Finney’s students to create performance opportunities for their new compositions and warned the young composers not to rely on institutional support.

In 1960–61, Finney took a sabbatical leave. Spanish composer and visiting professor Robert Gerhard (1896–1970), replaced him for the year, and became another ONCE catalyst. A student of Schoenberg, Gerhard's large reputation preceded his arrival. According to Reynolds, “There was an extraordinary kind of coalescence around [Gerhard’s] presence and the fact that he presented a link to the contemporary European scene that was of a quite different nature than Finney. He became a kind of attractor around which everybody gathered.

Two more events provided the final motivations for the ONCE Festival’s creation: a composition symposium at the University of Illinois at Urbana in June 1960, and the International Conference on Composers in Stratford, Ontario August 7–14, 1960.

The idea for ONCE was conceived in the car on the way home from the Stratford festival. Frustrated by the inaccessibility of contemporary composers and compositions at Stratford, ONCE composers had the idea to “present new music which would not ordinarily receive a hearing in the community.” ONCE composers had two objectives in mind that would accomplish their goal of bringing artistic significance to Ann Arbor: hosting prominent American and European composers to present their works and presenting premieres of works of the local ONCE composers. Meanwhile, Bernard Keith Waldrop (b. 1932), a poet and literature doctoral student and friend of Ashley and Mumma’s, had been an active participant in Ann Arbor’s avant-garde theatre and poetry scene. Waldrop encouraged Ashley to approach the Dramatic Arts Center (DAC), “an independent group of townspeople interested in experimental activity,” for funding for a new music festival. Particularly interested in community-based theatre, the DAC supported Waldrop’s efforts in the 1950s.

In November 1960, Ashley and Reynolds approached the DAC for sponsorship. They met Anne Wehrer (b. 1929), the secretary of the DAC, and Wilfred Kaplan (b. 1915), an important DAC supporter. Anne Wehrer “proved a virtual ONCE dark horse. Lacking any formal credentials in an artistic discipline, she proved an energetic organizer, one of their most potent creative minds, and a consummate theatrical performer.” Besides serving as the secretary of the DAC, she managed numerous festival logistics such as guest housing and venue rental and was a performer with the ONCE theatrical group. ONCE meetings—and parties—were usually at Anne Wehrer's house. Wilfred Kaplan, a University mathematics professor, pianist, and violinist, was also part of the Dramatic Arts Center and proved to be an important part of ONCE’s financial success, both through the DAC and individual sponsorship. Many other individuals and local stores supported ONCE.

With funding secured from the DAC, the first ONCE festival occupied two weekends: February 24–25 and March 3–4, 1961. The two weekends presented contemporary works by prominent composers such as Berio, Cage, Boulez, Stockhausen, and Varèse. The ONCE composers also premiered several of their own works. The main ONCE venue was the First Unitarian Church, and the composers sold out all four performances, convincing the DAC to finance them for another year. ONCE composers continued to be successful, gradually shifting their programming to exhibit more of their own works and more interdisciplinary, theatrical, and probably riskier productions. Press attention, while originally exclusively local, gradually became exclusively national and international.

ONCE Composers and Their Music

All of the ONCE composers had at one point in their careers studied at the University of Michigan with composition professor Ross Lee Finney. From their composition lessons and weekly seminars, the ONCE composers developed important roots in avant-garde compositional styles: twelve-tone, serialism, and Expressionism, for example. They also developed familiarity with prominent composers from the first half of the twentieth century such as Schoenberg, Webern, Varèse, and Berio. The early ONCE works most strongly reflect these avant-garde roots. However—possibly due to Gerhard’s one-year residency and his encouragement for ONCE composers to find their own individual style—the early compositions reflect a personal distinction already unique to each ONCE composer.

Much of the avant-garde music the ONCE composers were studying was numerical and mathematical; twelve-tone and serial techniques, for example, replace the twelve note names in an octave with numerical values 0–11. Besides studying these compositions, the ONCE composers had many other exposures to math and science. Reynolds is the most striking example of this with his previous career as a physicist and engineer, but other composers were also influenced by math and science. Ashley constructed many of his works around numbers and numerical formulas. Some of Ashley’s other works use recording techniques that would be impossible without scientific discoveries and innovations in electroacoustics. Cacioppo’s star chart score for Cassiopeia probably reflects scientific influence on his compositions. Gordon Mumma’s “discovery” of cybersonics reflects his work in a seismographic laboratory. Scavarda used a matrix form in his revolutionary piece Matrix for Clarinetist.

As ONCE progressed, many of the composers began to use their music to comment on musical traditions and societal conventions. Ashley’s and Mumma’s compositions are most notable for this, and the two composers often collaborated on their ONCE performances. The ONCE Group productions, led by Robert Ashley’s wife, Mary Tsaltas, also commented on societal rituals and conventions.

Manipulating the passing of time in a musical performance was a common interest of ONCE composers. According to Reynolds, this was a logical thing to do, just another reaction to previously composed music. Manipulating time was done in a variety of ways. Composers such as Reynolds and Cacioppo would write two or more parts moving at different speeds. Sometimes these parts would be horizontally juxtaposed, heard singularly one after another; other times they would be vertically juxtaposed, two or more parts moving at different rates heard at the same time. Scavarda explored indeterminate music where the length of a note was determined by the player’s ability to hold his breath or the amount of time it took a note on a piano or percussion instrument to decay. ONCE composers exploring this effect often placed long pauses in the music to even further skew the listener’s perception of meter.

Another ONCE festival theme—that eventually became an expectation—was creating or discovering new sounds or new ways to interpret music. Donald Scavarda is credited for discovering clarinet multiphonics in his clarinet solo, Matrix for Clarinetist. He also created abstract films that he used as scores instead of the traditional format. Ashley, Cacioppo, and Sheff experimented with graphic, verbal, and pictorial scores. All of the ONCE composers experimented with alternative ways of producing sounds on a variety of instruments. This not only contributed to each composer’s individual style, but created an expectation for music performed at each ONCE festival to present something new, continually challenge and stimulate performers, and captivate audiences.

From the first ONCE Festival, electronic music was a characteristic—and possibly expected among some composers such as Ashley and Mumma—component of ONCE. The early appearance of electronic compositions at the ONCE festivals is largely due to John Cage’s influence on the ONCE composers and Ashley and Mumma’s collaboration with Milton Cohen to compose electronic music for Cohen’s Space Theater productions. Ashley and Mumma both had electroacoustic studios in their homes, making electronic music a convenient composition device. Electronic music represented another possibility of new sound production, whether through magnetic tape layering or manipulation, recording, or cybersonics, one that was influenced by scientific developments.

Robert Ashley

Robert Ashley (b. 1930), originally a trained classical pianist and jazz enthusiast, received an undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan and a graduate degree from the Manhattan School of Music, both in composition. He returned to Ann Arbor in 1956 to pursue a doctorate in composition, studying with Ross Lee Finney. Among his contributions to the ONCE Festival include:

The Fourth of July (1960), an electroacoustic composition, was performed on the first ONCE Festival and was ironically one of the most radical of the most controversial pieces. The Fourth of July is a mixture of “free improvisation” loops playing at “a hierarchy of speeds, durations, repetitions, and sectional groupings” and a recording of his friends’ Fourth of July party. This piece generated mixed reviews from critics. Waldrop called the piece, “a work of great imagination, in perfect control,” while Collins George of the Free Press compared it to a “faulty…radio circuit,” and H. Wiley Hitchcock walked out before the piece was finished.

Sonata (1959–1960) for piano Ashley’s Sonata (1959–60) was performed at the first ONCE Festival and explores changing rhythmic densities. Ashley’s goal was to create “a kind of ‘kaleidoscope’ of very rapidly changing ‘harmonies.’” The music uses a 36-note row with a combination of half-steps and whole-steps that produces dissonant sounds for any combination of pitches. The length of the phrases, instead of relying on melody or harmony, is determined by how long a note on the piano could be sustained, with or without pedal.

Fives (1962) revolves around the number five and is scored for two ensembles of five percussion instruments each, two pianists using five fingers each, and five string players. The pitches and rhythms are indeterminate in specified ranges and combinations. Ashley thinks of this piece as an “encyclopedia of proportions and combinations that I could make available to anybody (if I could find a publisher) who might want to use it—or any part of it—to make a performance piece, giving the person a nice set of possibilities without the person having to do the calculations.” Soon, however, Ashley realized that the score would be impossible for anyone to understand, but he has used the score/chart a few times himself to compose other pieces.

in memoriam…Crazy Horse (symphony) (1963), graphically notated and scored for 32 groups of four-piece ensembles and is the third in a group of four pieces Ashley wrote that present a social commentary on the parallels between European musical history—in particular, the emergence of musical form—and American social history—in particular, the emergence of the “social” idea of the American hero. The score for this piece is graphically notated as a 64-point circle, with lines converging from each point to the circle’s center. The format of the piece a lot of freedom to the performers and allows them to be an active part of the composition process, however, they have specific instructions on how to progress around the circle. As they progress, the sounds produced by the individual ensembles oscillate between dissonance and harmony, building in volume and fading out, and the interaction between groups is apparent.

George Cacioppo

George Cacioppo (1926-1984). Cacioppo received a master’s degree in composition from the University of Michigan studying with Ross Lee Finney and continued to live in Ann Arbor after that as a composer. Among his contributions to the ONCE Festival include:

String Trio (1960) for violin, viola, and cello, was among Cacioppo’s first pieces performed at ONCE. Cacioppo’s expressionist style is exhibited in the dramatic and sometimes violent melodic lines. Influences of Schoenberg and Webern are readily apparent in the string texture, dark color, and short melodic motives that repeat to create a coherent work. Cacioppo’s individual style comes through when the three parts intersect to sound like a single voice, and the constantly and rapidly shifting colors and textures of the instruments.

Bestiary I: Eingang (1961), for soprano and chamber orchestra, is a setting of a poem by R.M. Rilke. The poem, when read or sung aloud, has a strict meter. The music, in contrast, is indeterminate, created by the time it takes the ensemble’s instruments to decay. There are large spaces in between the instrumental entrances to further create the feeling of non-metrical accompaniment juxtaposed with a metrical text.

Cassiopeia is a selection from his Pianopieces (1962), for piano. The score is based on a star chart, encouraging performers to have a different perception of the musical process. Sheff explains Cassiopeia’s performance in Generation, a University of Michigan student puglication: “Its notation is an open follow-the-lines chart. Size of the points indicated dynamics, letters are pitches, their numbers are octave registers, and white notes are harmonics. In performance, any conflict in following direction of lines is resolved by free passage between islands [on the chart].”

Advance of the Fungi (1964) for three clarinets, three French horns, three trombones, percussion, and male chorus. Cacioppo based the title of his piece on a book by Ernest Charles Large that describes the fungi that plants and animals fought between the 1845 potato famine and 1940. The winds again use extended techniques such as singing through the instrument and using a variety of mutes to produce pitches that give the piece a creeping and moaning quality. In Generation, Cacioppo explains that the extended techniques “establish a close color relationship between the male chorus and the wind instruments.”

Gordon Mumma

Gordon Mumma (b. 1935), after dropping out of high school, completed one year of composition studies at the University in 1952–53 before dropping out, but he continued to live in Ann Arbor and composed and performed as a horn player and pianist. Among his contributions to the ONCE Festival include:

Sinfonia for 12 Instruments & Magnetic Tape (1958–60) combines an electronic work Mumma created for Milton Cohen’s Space Theatre with a new instrumental composition. In this work, Mumma explores “sound blocks” or musical densities. In the first movement, the sound blocks interact with each other, but the range is restricted to two octaves. Intensified by its small range, the music uses clusters of sound juxtaposed against one another, like a group of people bumping into each other in a space much too small. The second movement reflects most strongly the avant-garde styles Mumma may have learned in his brief studies with Finney in its pointillist and sparse in texture. The third movement begins as a duet, expands to a trio, then a quartet, and gradually expands to form an eight-voice linear contrapuntal texture. The texture changes into a “sound-specified quasi-improvisation”––instrument pitches and motives are specified, but their placement in time is not––with electronic sounds.

Meanwhile, a Twopiece (1961) is for two groups of percussion instruments—including standard and household percussion, one group of which is mounted inside the piano—piano, and one unspecified instrument (in the ONCE performance, Mumma played French horn), and electronic soundtrack. In Generation, Sheff explains that Meanwhile, a Twopiece “provides an opportunity for two performers to make use of determinate sound material with a given choreography in a way that emphasizes continual action and sound.” The ONCE Festival premiere began with Ashley and Mumma running onto the stage, banging percussion instruments as they entered. Four scores—seven pages each—were placed at different locations on the stage and Mumma and Ashley played any of the four parts in any order at any given moment. The performance ended with Ashley and Mumma running offstage.

Gestures II (1958–60) is for two pianos and an electronic soundtrack. According to Mumma, “the composition of Gestures II began in the later 1950s as a grand concept for the diverse virtuosity of the two pianists.” The sections involve a variety of piano manipulations—playing on the keyboard, playing directly on the strings, and on the wood and metal parts inside the piano––and can be performed in any order. “Section X” is one single page, which lists coordinated activities for the pianists with hundreds of possible combinations, none of which can repeat. “Section X” could last anywhere from a few seconds to an hour. Large Size Mograph (1962) for piano Medium Size Mograph (1962) is considered the first cybersonic work, although the idea had been in use for nearly fifteen years. It is one of a series of Mographs Mumma composed based on his work in a seismographic laboratory. The title is a play on the word seismograph and the music is meant to imitate a seismographic event Mumma observed when working in the lab. To make this work cybersonic, Mumma put a microphone on the piano soundboard. The sounds picked up by the microphone were altered—the attack was maintained, but the sustaining part of the sound and the decay were reversed—and then played back to the audience.

Mumma wrote the electroacoustic soundtrack for Scavarda’s abstract film Greys (1963), following an important characteristic of Scavarda’s work: “limiting [his] sound materials and developing them with restricted but complex procedures.” Mumma used very few sound sources for Greys and employed unusual tape-recording techniques such as magnetic-overlapping rather than standard sound mixing.

Roger Reynolds

Roger Reynolds (b. 1934) returned to Ann Arbor after completing a degree in Engineering Physics from the University of Michigan and then working in Los Angeles as a systems development engineer in the missile industry. Reynolds was not exposed to music at all during his childhood, but became fascinated and inspired by music during his undergraduate by pianist William Doppmann and musicologist and performer Sherman Van Solkema. Reynolds realized in Los Angeles that he was enjoying spending his time as a pianist in the evenings more than his time as an engineer during the day, so he returned to Ann Arbor to study music and ultimately composition with Finney. Among his contributions to the ONCE Festival include:

Epigram and Evolution (1960), for piano solo, was Reynolds’s first piece performed at ONCE and the second piece he composed. The composition is crafted around a three-measure epigram containing “an upward flourish, a downward slur, an explosive low-register sforzando and a pair of almost simultaneous dyads.” The epigram contains, on a micro-organizational level, four distinct “sonic circumstances” or musical motive. In the evolution section, each motive expands to comprise a variation movement, each of which is associated with a particular character trait.

Wedge (1961), for piano, two flutes, two trumpets, two trombones, tuba, double bass, and percussion, is a study in metrical, timbral, and textural contrasts. The piece is composed of two overlapping musical layers, one “serene and proportioned” (winds and double bass) and the other made up of “dynamic and varied blocks of sound” (percussion). The name Wedge comes from the fact that each layer is “a wedge-shaped entity in a field which had pitch as its vertical axis and time as its horizontal one.” Reynolds used numerical ratios to define the structure of the layers, manage pitch by tetrachordal aggregates, and employ a technique he learned from Gerhard called “horizon-tone” numbering. Reynolds’s intent was “to create a situation in which time moves at different rates and with different sorts of momentum simultaneously.”

Mosaic (1962) is a set of variations—without a theme—for flute and piano. The piece introduces a rich array of new sounds for the flute, including key slaps, tone bending, breath tones, and flutter tongue, while the pianist is required to use knuckles on the keys, play glissandi inside the instrument, and place paper inside of the instrument to create a buzzing sound. Reynolds explains that he paid a new level of attention to “instrumental ‘color’ and the shaping influence of the texture.” In the manuscript, Reynolds even includes “rudimentary linear drawings” among his sketches, trying to evoke particular characters and texture.

A Portrait of Vanzetti (1962–63), for narrator, two flutes, two French horns, trumpet, clarinet, trombone, percussion, and electroacoustic sounds consists of edited letters from Italian anarchist Bartolomeo Vanzetti, who emigrated to the U.S. and was convicted of two murders in 1921. Although another man confessed to the crime, Vanzetti was executed in 1927. The work is an extension of Reynolds’s use of text in some of his compositions and reflects his interest in cutting-edge electronic sounds. A Portrait of Vanzetti represents a newly defined socio-political influence in Reynolds’s compositions. The piece is eerie and disturbing, the wind and percussion sounds heightening the narrator’s seemingly calm vocal style.

Reynolds’s duet Continuum is for violin and cello and is modeled off of the traditional early music four-movement sonata tempo structure: slow, fast, slow, fast. Continuum is clearly contemporary, however, and exhibits Reynolds’s interest in direct manipulation of sounds. The motives of each movement are defined by dynamics, rather than a melodic phrase. In his notes that precede the score published in Generation magazine, Reynolds makes clear that his compositional goal in Continuum was to “exploit dynamics as more than an adjunct to traditional habits of expressivity.” Reynolds is negotiating with sound directly and exploring alternative methods of achieving emotional affect to make an old structure contemporary and personal.

Donald Scavarda

Donald Scavarda (b. 1928) completed his Master’s degree in 1953, Scavarda received a Fulbright Scholarship to study composition in Hamburg, Germany. In 1954, he was awarded the BMI First Prize for his Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra in the prestigious Student Composers Radio Award competition. He returned to Ann Arbor in 1955 to pursue a doctorate with Ross Lee Finney.

Groups for Piano (1959) was performed at the first ONCE Festival. Groups extends the idea of the serial, strict, and economical nature Scavarda explored in earlier haiku set, In the Autumn Mountains. In this work, Scavarda poses and answers his own question, which, in itself, seems to comment and react negatively to the avant-garde compositions Scavarda was studying as a student: “How short can a piece be and still be perceived as complete and coherent?” In describing the piece Scavarda says: “The five groups have durations respectively of seven, eight, ten, eight, and seven seconds with specified silences between them. Total duration is 55 seconds. To create a sense of spatial depth every note is given its own specific dynamic, frequently with dramatic contrasts.”

Matrix for Clarinetist (1962) is probably Scavarda’s most well-known piece because it is the first published work that includes clarinet multiphonics. The piece was published in May 1962 in Generation magazine with Groups for Piano and was premiered in East Lansing, Michigan at a ONCE Friends concert. According to Scavarda, “Matrix explores the acoustical properties of the clarinet and makes a clean break with the past.” Scavarda’s “discovery” of clarinet multiphonics occurred while working with clarinetist John Morgan. Morgan’s clarinet squeaked while he was warming up and Scavarda heard multiphonics in the sound. Morgan and Scavarda continued to collaborate to develop consistency in producing the sounds and a way to notate them in a musical score.

Matrix reflects Scavarda’s search for new sounds and development of new ways music can be expressed to a performer other than the traditional score. The piece continues Scavarda’s interest in non-metrical music in that each cell in the matrix occupies one full breath. By using a mathematical matrix, Scavarda allows the performer to not only determine the length of each note by his breath capacity, but to determine the length of the piece, as long as he follows the directions for proceeding around the score. Matrix can be a few seconds or a few days long depending on the route the performer chooses to follow through the catalogued sounds. The discovery of new ways of producing sound and new ways of organizing music, as in Matrix, was indispensable to the ONCE festival, after the first year. This “newness” kept the festival exciting, presented new challenges to the performers, and was expected by audience.

Sounds for Eleven (1961), for flute, oboe, clarinet in B, clarinet in E, bassoon, piano, vibraphone, guitar, percussion (2), and conductor Scavarda’s chamber work for winds and percussion, Sounds For Eleven (1961), reflects his interest in the possibilities of pure sounds to be expressive. To achieve this effect, Scavarda removed other elements—mostly melody and rhythm—from the music. The music has large silences between sounds—up to eighteen seconds is permitted—for two purposes: to separate each of the sounds the ensemble creates and to ensure that a sense of rhythm is not accidentally being established.

The woodwind parts, instead of using a time signature, are notated in full breaths or fractions of one full breath, allowing for natural, human variance in breath lengths between performers. Solid lines extending from the staff indicate a sound’s shape. A convex curve beginning and ending at the bottom of the staff indicates a crescendo and diminuendo, for example. Various sized sinusoidal waves correspond to vibrato amplitude. All percussion instruments are supposed to decay until complete silence, and also have lines extending from the parts approximating the time to achieve this effect. A dot at the end of the line indicates indeterminacy, allowing for variances in breath size and instrument differences.


On April 28, 2009, The University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance and the Institute of Humanities announced a three-day festival and conference entitled ONCE. MORE to take place November 2-4, 2010 at Rackham Auditorium, the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. From 1961 to 1966, the ONCE Festival, which was held in Ann Arbor, Michigan, was a small artist-run event that had a huge impact on the American contemporary music scene. ONCE. MORE will celebrate the pioneering contributions of the five original ONCE composers: Robert Ashley, Gordon Mumma, Roger Reynolds, Donald Scarvada and the late George Cacioppo.

On November 2 and 4, 2010, the School of Music, Theatre & Dance will host two concerts featuring the music of the ONCE composers: The first concert, scheduled for November 2, will feature historic works from the original Once Festival of the 1960s, while the second concert, scheduled for November 4, will feature recent music. On Wednesday, November 3, 2010, the Institute of Humanities will host a discussion between the four ONCE composers, moderated by Michael Daugherty, Professor of Composition, and Mary Simoni, former Chair of the Department of Performing Arts and Technology at the University of Michigan. The Institute has also invited noted scholars, such as Alex Ross, Richard Crawford, Marjorie Perloff and Nancy Perloff, to give presentations. ONCE “graphic” scores by the composers, historic photographs, posters and programs from the original Ann Arbor ONCE Festivals will also be on exhibit at the Institute of Humanities gallery.


The essence of ONCE is difficult to capture in a single sentence. ONCE meant several things, sometimes simultaneously and sometimes changing as the festival evolved. ONCE was clearly dedicated to presenting and making accessible new and innovative compositions. The festival was also about many other aspects of music as well, from community performances to artistic entrepreneurship. From examining the music through first person interviews, one aspect of ONCE is definitely clear: ONCE members’ dedication to the cause and commitment to experimentation and risk-taking had an intense and personal impact on its composers, its performers, and its audiences. Nearly a half-century after ONCE began, ONCE participants still talk about ONCE with enthusiasm that makes apparent the imprint the festival made on their lives, both as musicians and active community members.

External links


  • Cohen, Milton. “Space Theatre,” from Dimension No. 14, 1963. University of Michigan Bentley Historical Library.
  • Hitchcock, H. Wiley. “The Current Chronicle,” from Musical Quarterly, Vol. 48, No. 2, 1962. Oxford University Press.
  • James, Richard. “ONCE: Microcosm of the 1960s Musical and Multimedia Avant-Garde,” from American Music, Vol. 5, No. 4. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1987.
  • Kasemets, Udo. “The Current Chronicle,” from Musical Quarterly, Vol. 50, No. 4, 1964. Oxford University Press.
  • Miller, Leta. ONCE and Again: The Evolution of a Legendary Festival, from the CD Box Set Music from the ONCE Festival 1961–1966. New York: New World Records CD 80567-2, 2003.
  • Mumma, Gordon. “The ONCE Festival and How It Happened,” Arts in Society, Vol. 4, No. 2, 1967, Madison, WI. Revised by Gordon Mumma 2008. Copyright 2008 by Gordon Mumma.
  • Reynolds, Roger. Preface to score publication from Generation, Vol. 15, unmarked number, 1963. University of Michigan Bentley Historical Library.
  • Sheff, Robert and Mark Slobin. “Music Beyond the Boundaries,” from Generation, Vol. 17, No. 2, 1965. University of Michigan Bentley Historical Library.
  • Weingarten, Emily. The Music of ONCE: Perpetual Innovation. July 2008.

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