ONCE and the Sixties
ONCE was an avant-garde art venture that lived and died with the sixties. Started by a group of young composers, it took shape as an independent new music festival in the college town of Ann Arbor, Michigan, in the American Midwest. From 1961 to 1965, the festival premiered original contemporary concert music, electronic music, theatrical performance pieces, and dance. It became an unexpected success and an important hub of a fledgling, nationwide network of young performing artists from various disciplines. In due course it attracted international attention and outgrew its local sponsor, a nonprofit organization supporting theatrical arts. When the sponsor withdrew funding in 1965, calling an end to the festival, ONCE activities were continued by the so-called ONCE Group, artist friends from various disciplines who had been participating in the festival and who, under the direction of composer Robert Ashley, went on to perform original musical theater pieces across the country until 1970.
ONCE was not the only collective art movement that started around 1960, involved music, had a strong inclination toward innovation in the performing arts and toward stretching the boundaries of artistic categories, and struggled for a venue within its own community.1 But ONCE was perhaps the only one whose existence coincided so closely with the 1960s as a whole. It is thus particularly suited to an examination of the intersections and correlations between what its chief protagonists were doing and the decade in which they were doing it. Such an examination touches on both historic and aesthetic