October 10, 2003

Trapped in John Cage

Do you really like John Cage? I mean, the idea is intriguing, but the execution is usually excruciating. Merce Cunningham's troop performed at Wellesley one time, and I went, and somehow managed to endure the whole evening, even though there was a Cage protégé there performing live Cage-like "music" to accompany the dancing. There was absolutely no passion or sense of humanity in the dancers' movements, since they were counting, and the music sounded like rattling chains and stomach noises. For two hours! Out of respect for the performers, I stuck it out, but most of the audience left after 30 minutes. "Aleatory" was the kindest thing that could have been said about the show. And it's funny, but I saw that word (or maybe it was aléatoire) in a CD player manual a couple of years ago, and managed to figure out its meaning all by myself, by remembering the Latin phrase Alea jacta est.

I try to be open minded, but if I get zero pleasure or enlightenment from a performance, I think it wiser to tell the Emperor he's naked, rather than pretend he's wearing Prada. I agree that the movement in which "art" is more about making a statement than creating beauty or providing an outlet for true inspiration has run its course, as far as I'm concerned. I remember a chamber music piece composed by a Wellesley senior that was performed at our baccalaureate service, and it was a mass of discordant flutes and strings. Perhaps there was some kind of mathematical reason for its existence, but in my mind, there was no justification for subjecting us to 15 minutes of pure torture. Right afterwards, my friends Marie and Susie and I got up and performed Gilbert & Sullivan's "Three Little Maids from School" to thunderous applause. I think our audience was even more enthusiastic because they had been delivered from so-called "modern" classical music.