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A short service : in memory of John Cage

by Stephen Adams (2007)

Work Overview

"The purpose of music is to sober and quiet the mind, thus making it susceptible to divine influences." (Thomas Mace, quoted Cage as quoted by Gita Sarabhai)

This work composed for the Song Company takes as its point of departure a Cage anecdote from his 1963 publication "A Year from Monday" (with kind permission of the publishers Marion Boyars, 1976, republishing Calder & Boyars 1968), which concerns a brief interaction between Cage and his grandmother. The anecdote touches upon a variety of Cage concerns: hearing and deafness; loud and soft sounds; sounds in space and the mediations of technology (the radio); the piano as a cultural object (entirely silent yet significant in this narrative); and Cage's religious heritage, a low- church evangelical style Protestantism whose asceticism, work ethic and pursuit of transcendence through the everyday all seem to fuse with his Buddhist and other philosophical influences to inform the curious secular spirituality of Cage. And then, of course, there is his characteristic sense of humour.

So here is a short service in the spirit of Cage:

the Hymns - in place of Cage's beloved New England hymns, I've used my own hymnal heritage as revealed in an early C20th publication by my great grandfather of Evangelic Hymns (With Tunes) (The Central Press, Printers and Publishers, 309 Castlereagh Street, Sydney) - the hymn tunes and words fragmented and diffused, through the vagaries of memory or the radio dial;

the 'Verse for the Day' - a favourite Cage saying originating out of the English non-conformist protestantism of C17th lutenist Thomas Mace's writings on music and spirituality, refracted through an Indian musician's accumulated wisdom; and

'The Lesson' Cage's anecdote.

In my imaginary service, the place of honour is given to the radio, represented both by an actual radio and by the drone-singer's shifting overtones and "noise" through which the other sounds appear as through a haze created by the radio dial's misplacement. And the whole, aspiring to a calm acceptance of its incompleteness, an everyday, quiet transcendence

Work Details

Year: 2007

Instrumentation: 6 solo voices & radio, with possible additional speaker.

Duration: 10 min.

Difficulty: Advanced

Commission note: Commissioned by The Song Company.. Commissioned for 'Cage Uncaged'

First performance: by The Song Company — 26 Apr 07. 'Cage Uncaged', presented by the 2007 Totally Huge New Music Festival, The Art Gallery of Western Australia

Performances of this work

15 Aug 07: Carriageworks, Sydney. Featuring The Song Company.

26 Apr 07: 'Cage Uncaged', presented by the 2007 Totally Huge New Music Festival, The Art Gallery of Western Australia. Featuring The Song Company.

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