John Cage, "Cagean Philospphy", and a few other things...

Hey guys,
So on the way to my degree in Music Education, we are required to take the lessons, and do the ensemble requirements, and attend Studio classes and what have you. I love it all, and it really does make me happy to be doing what I am doing, however there is one thing that in the back of my mind deters me from the music world today. John Cage. I know what he did for the ";music world"; of today and how his ";innovations"; and ";minimalistic style"; helped start some interesting things in the percussion world, but for some reason, this seems to be all I am learning about these days. Maybe it is that this Cagean Philosophy is beginning to take over the percussive arts scene, but I do not see how making students study him and his works full time, and assigning us students mesostics is going to help us in the Education world. Wait, let me rephrase that, I understand that we need to learn it and need to know about him and his contributions, but for the last 2 years, I have had John Cage thrown at me from all directions, be it performances, assignments, writing assignments, music listening (or non-music listening in the event of 4'33";) and I just feel as if there is more to the percussion world than just this. In my Music History and Music Literature courses, we have learned about everything from Gregorian Chant all the way up to the new music, such as Steve Reich, John Cage, Edgar Varese, and we didn't seem to focus on one particular topic. I just feel as though as important as John Cage is, that there is still more to the percussion scene, whether it be percussion ensembles/orchestras, other solo literature, or what have you. This semester we are holding our annual Contemporary Music Festival, and every year we premier new pieces and play new ones as well as older ones. I love learning this new music, but I get the strange feeling that when we are getting this new repertoire, it is still going to be related to John Cage in some way or another. Last year we performed ";Qilyaun"; by John Luther Adams, and it was an amazing piece, if you have not heard it, try to find a recording of it, it is not so much a ";musical piece"; but it is sure a chop-buster. Ok, back to what I was saying, the piece was written by John Luther Adams, and he was actually present during our rehearsals and performances of this piece, and even though some of his inspiration may have very well included the likes of John Cage and others, not once did he really speak of John Cage or Cagean philosophy or things of that nature. So I guess point in short is, am I making a bigger deal out of this than I should be or is it something that is university/professor related. I am not trying to offend anyone in this so-called 'rant' I am just trying to learn more about the topic, and I figured what place other than where percussionists and musicians from all backgrounds unite to share their musical opinions and suggestions.

Thanks for you input guys.
Hey Justin, here are my two cents:

When it comes to Cage, you are talking about a fairly polarizing figure. Many people have the reaction that you are having: the ";why is this guy such a big deal?"; reaction. And others really embrace what he was all about, or like myself, admire what he did, but am not an enthusiast.

As far as influence on percussionists, I think the thing to remember about Cage is that he wasn't really a percussionist -- he was a pianist -- but he was really interested in percussion and got his friends involved in playing percussion, too. Both his personal interest and the pieces he wrote helped to streamline our activity. He was doing this at a time when percussion wasn't seen as either chamber or solo material. So when he and others started taking percussion more seriously it ultimately lead to the beginning of the wide-spread acceptance that we enjoy today.

We all have the Third Construction to thank for much of the gravitas that exists in the modern percussion ensemble.

Now as far as musicians across all disciplines are concerned, we have much to owe Mr. Cage because of the boundaries he pushed as far as what we used to perceive music as. Performing 4'33"; is insulting to some, but to others, it shows that music is what we all inherently believe: it's subjective to the composer, the performer and the listener. It's the same reason I can walk into an Art Gallery and hate everything I see, while someone else loves every piece.

Whether you like what Cage did or not is not as relevant as what he did. He showed us that there was/is a whole world of music beyond our understanding and it has caused us to question what we do. Since Cage, many people have simply gone back to the standard world of music. This is the world of music I live in and probably all of us do. But knowing what's out there and what's possible musically speaking has influenced our thought about what we've always known.

There's a great documentary on Cage that was filmed during the last years of his life. For the life of me, I can't remember what it's called, but it's fascinating. The interviews with Cage helped me to realize that he was not doing odd things for the sake of oddity, but rather was doing what he did because he believed it was his musical obligation.

I appreciate you actually taking the time to leave a honest and knowledgeable reply. I at first had that reaction of ";why is this guy such a big deal"; but after having looked farther into it and having the understanding of what he did rather than what he was trying to do, I am more acceptable of things now.

Cage is one of those people that, I feel, is an amazing person for doing what they believed in doing, and actually followed through with things. I think that my big problem was with his particular case was that so much of what HE did, had such a large impact on the way the percussion, as well as most of the music world today. I remember thinking to myself when I first was being educated on Cage, ";what does this have to do with me as a percussionist?";. Now, I see that it isn't so much what he did for the ";percussion world";, but more of what he did for the entire musical world.

I am glad that I actually wrote these things out on here, because even after your reply, Eric, I feel much more understanding of the ";world of Cage";, and I was actually able to think about what I was reading, and not have to think about what exactly I was thinking.
The film about Cage (American Masters: John Cage) was one from a series of films about various artists (music, art, film, etc.) and their contributions to our culture.�� As far as 4'33"; goes: ";In one short piece, Cage broke from the history of classical composition and proposed that the primary act of musical performance was not making music, but listening."; (source:

Also, Cage was heavily influenced by Eastern philosophy and the book, [i][b]I Ching [/b] [/i] - translated ";Book of Changes"; (roughly 5000 years old).

A breif quote from John Cage: An Autobiographical Statement ";The strings, the winds, the brass know more about music than they do about sound. To study noise they must go to the school of percussion. There they will discover silence, a way to change one's mind; and aspects of time that have not yet been put into practice.";

I'm not a fan of his, but I respect the work and his philosophy.
Throughout music history there is a constant quest for expression, and with that, the quest for originality. So as time went on, people have discovered new and interesting chords, modes, tones, textures, timbres, time signatures, and styles. The more music is created, the more it becomes hard to compose with a certain scale (or whatever) without sounding like someone else who came before. Thus, when the western world got sick of all that they knew, they turned to other cultures for new ideas. (We're still sort of riding that wave out)

The first composers of atonal music felt it was their obligation to write this way simply because they felt it was the next step in musical evolution. This was incredibly bold and became very polarizing (and still is) for the music community. Some felt it wasn't ";music"; anymore, just an attempt to over-intellectualize music, other felt it was a stroke of genius. The atonal wave came hard but it is now being integrated into our palette.

So after all that, if you were a composer, what could you do that was fresh and new? Logically micro-tonal music would be next, but what after that? Micro micro tonal music? Non-micro tonal? This is where Cage comes in. When all conventions seem stale, he goes way out in left field to bring us something that will challenge the very way we think about music. That is ";music philosophy";. People don't like Cage for the same reasons they like the great composers that came before him, they like him because his music made us halt in our tracks and actually think about some bigger musical issues out there. This manner of thinking wasn't just in the realm of music, but it was a part of a cultural shift to plurality.

So perhaps the reason some professors want you to study him so much, is because his way of thinking was that last great innovation in the world of compositional music. I don't mean that it is the last one that will ever occur, I'm sure there will be more but I'm not sure where we could possibly go from here. I suppose we are waiting for the next crazy revolutionary to come our way.
[quote]There's a great documentary on Cage that was filmed during the last years of his life. For the life of me, I can't remember what it's called, but it's fascinating. The interviews with Cage helped me to realize that he was not doing odd things for the sake of oddity, but rather was doing what he did because he believed it was his musical obligation.[/quote]

The video is called. . . ";I have nothing to say, . . . and I'm saying it";

I own this movie! LOL! Its a very interesting look into the history, works, personality and inner workings of John Cage with other musicians as well as some disturbing moments of him picking ";SHROOMS"; in a forest.
I personally think John Cage is worth mentioning in a music class, but not worth lengthy assignments and specific lectures.  It would be a good topic for a humanities/philosophy class, but I don't think it belongs in a traditional music class.  I had a professor tell me ";if it's intended to be music, then it's music.";  I disagree.  This is just my opinion, but if something sounds like a cat walking on a piano, or instruments falling down a staircase, it isn't music.
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