Local composer/philanthropist Peter Buffett to appear at Bard

Composer Peter Buffett

If there’s one member of the one percent whom everyone likes, it’s Warren Buffett, who has won over the public with his honesty, blunt defense of the interests of the 99 percent and folksy wisdom. Buffet as father was apparently no different, raising his kids with a sense of moral values and requiring them to make their own way rather than live off Dad.

It’s a strategy that yielded sterling results with his son Peter, an award-winning musician, composer and author who is as accessible as his father. Peter Buffett started out doing the music for MTV videos in the 1980s. He composed the music for the famous “Fire Dance” scene in Dances with Wolves, as well as the score for an Emmy-awarded CBS mini-series titled 500 Nations, which traced the history of Native Americans, and an IMAX screen show on Native American dancing and powwow singing that premiered at the opening of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC. Buffet has released 15 records and owns two independent labels. His first book, Life Is What You Make It: Find Your Own Path to Fulfillment, has been a best-seller and was translated into more than 15 languages. He is also a noted philanthropist and runs a foundation with his wife.

All these threads come together in Buffett’s live show, “Life Is What You Make It: A Concert & Conversation with Peter Buffett,” which he has performed all over the US as well as in China. On Saturday, June 9, Buffett is bringing his show to Bard College’s Fisher Center for the Performing Arts. According to the press release, there’s an upbeat message: “Buffett ultimately conveys that it’s one’s values – and what we are able to give back to society – that shape and define us as individuals.” The show starts at 8 p.m., and tickets cost $25 general admission, $15 for seniors and students.

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Check out Buffett’s website, https://peterbuffett.com, for music samples, video clips and essays penned by him. Buffett resides in Ulster County and recently spoke to Alm@nac:

What inspired you to mix music and conversation in your show?

As I got older and my Dad got to be more well-known, people would say, “You’re so normal.” It was a nice comment that made me think, “Why wouldn’t I be normal?” I was asked to give some talks six or seven years ago and realized that, by telling my story, it might redefine what success or private wealth actually means. After I gave a couple of talks, I thought if I do this I should play, since it’s what I do for a living, and authenticates the story that I’m normal and do my own thing. In the conversation part, I take questions from the audience. People can ask me anything. I also show clips from when I was growing up: stills of things from my early career, as well as my Dad’s report card when he was in junior high.

How did he do?

It is so bad, it really reminds students and parents alike that you can’t necessarily judge someone on other people’s metrics – or by examining a particular slice of their life, which won’t necessarily indicate what a person is really good at.

 How has your show been received?

I’ve gotten a surprisingly positive reception everywhere. I‘m still surprised that people are interested in and moved by the show. For instance, in China I present a real conundrum. People there assume I would do what my father did, that I’d be pursuing wealth over everything else. They’re amazed my parents gave me such latitude and didn’t write me a check. I’ve been to China five times, and sold 400,000 copies of the book over there. It’s quite extraordinary.

What do you make of the one percent?

There’s probably a one percent in all of us. It’s easy to blame one another. I agree with the premise there is a 99 percent, but it’s more like that premise is in all of us. Each one of us has a role to play. I grew up in an equalitarian, humanitarian household. Both of my parents got involved in civil rights in Omaha. I heard Martin Luther King speak as a kid. My parents never felt they were different from other people. They never made us feel special – or rather, we were unique, but so was everybody else. My childhood heroes were the Beatles and Martin Luther King. It came naturally to me to sing about and show people what I was seeing in the world. Traveling around the world and my foundation work has exposed me to things.

What’s the primary focus of your foundation?

The fundamental view my wife and I have is that the world is out of balance. For thousands of years it has been based on exploitation and domination and control. We feel we need to shift into a collaborative environment. We see girls and women as the primary agents of change, so we mostly support issues affecting them. Focusing on and empowering adolescent girls is the most efficient investment we can make. If we invest in an adolescent girl, she’ll do the rest.

 Is your work spiritually based?

Yes, I think it is. I’m not anti-religion, I’m anti- any group asserting power and control and domination over others. Unfortunately, this happens in the name of some religions. There is a crisis in terms of what spirituality and faith really mean.

The fact that people are responding to my show positively makes me feel good. Literally, after every single show, whether it’s in China, Detroit or Las Vegas, I get people singing along with me. Whether they’re conservative or liberal, black or white, Chinese or American, they’re singing and sometimes coming to tears.

 Are you hopeful for the future of humanity?

It does feel like things are changing. Every new technology, such as the Internet, can be our friend, by exposing more people to other people and creating awareness around issues. It does connect us in terms of hearing about other people’s lives. The negative side is you only have to listen to what you agree with or want to hear. However, when I’m performing at colleges and high schools, kids seem incredibly engaged. They want to live by the Golden Rule. We see that with the shift in issues like gay marriage. The younger generation is respectful in accepting something potentially different from yourself.

How else are you getting your message across?

It’s definitely an evolution, and to plan is ridiculous. I’m starting to post a weekly video blog, as well as a written blog along the lines of my essays, coalescing around the idea that we are the stories we believe in: It’s up to us to decide what we’re going to believe and how we can change the story. Occupy Wall Street is an indication there’s something systemically wrong. Instead of looking outward, let’s look closer to home, to our own relationships and what we believe and why.

 In America, it’s so easy to zone out in front of the TV. Would you agree?

You’re just sort of buying in or being a part of the system if you prefer to be comfortable. I think keeping everyone comfortable and not necessarily appropriately informed is definitely an agenda…we don’t have a TV. I watch TV when I’m on the road staying in hotel rooms, and can’t believe what people are watching: the reality shows and the news, how awful it is. I just talked with a friend from Omaha who’s a roofer. He just had his biggest year. He works in Nashville, which is booming with construction. But he said, after he turned on the TV, you’d think the whole world is going to Hell.

 How long have you lived in Ulster County?

We were weekenders, but we just sold our apartment in New York City, so we’re officially based now in Ulster County. I’m thrilled. I definitely love calling it home. My wife and I are pinching each other.

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