Have you seen the leaden snark about new music that recently passed for a column on Huffington Post? Penned by composer Daniel Asia, it was ostensibly about John Cage’s centenary year celebrations, but was really just a rehash of reactionary vitriol against experimental art.

Aren’t we yet tired of attacking those whose aesthetic viewpoints differ from our own? Can’t we composers all just get along? Apparently not. My reply to Huff Post follows below.


With all due respect to Daniel Asia, it is very easy to write an essay excoriating a dead man and griping about centenary festivals: both are easy targets. It is not so easy to create a body of work that outlives you and continues to provoke thought. John Cage’s music may not suit Professor Asia, but it certainly engaged audiences throughout the world in 2012.

I wrote about several of the events and came away with a very different impression (from that portrayed in the article above) of Cage’s music and the music of those who admired him. Much of it I found invigorating, stimulating, and yes, often entertaining.


Christian Carey

Assistant Professor of Music

Westminster Choir College,

Princeton, NJ.

9 Responses to “Dear Huff Post …”
  1. Well, the problem is the Rite isn’t a usual suspect anymore. For people like you and me, sure. But for the music-listening public, it’s way off the beaten path. If we’re throwing music festivals for our own niche, then sure: bring out the exotics. But if we’re trying to reach out, I’m not sure Cage is a wise choice.

  2. David,

    Interesting comparison. While I am mindful of Sacre’s importance, I think that some of Cage’s works are quite important too. We do him a disservice to think of Cage primarily as a “philosopher” – he was an excellent composer.

    In general, I think that when we focus too much on “ranking” works as canonical, we tread a dangerous road that’s already long been in disputation. My “Sixty PostWar Pieces” playlist from last year took a bit of heat for not providing “greatest hits;” this was a deliberate move on my part. One can nearly always find the “usual suspects:” why not encourage listeners to explore some lesser taken, yet still scenic, roads?

    Playlist here: http://open.spotify.com/user/ulyssestone/playlist/3x2hESvKxZBYZojqUPSIx0

  3. Comparing Stravinsky and Cage is like comparing a great novelist who wrote some good criticism to a great critic who wrote some good novels. Surely nothing in Cage’s oeuvre equals the Rite, just as Stravinsky’s words surely don’t make us rethink music’s possibilities as much as Cage’s do.

  4. George Heathco says:

    Academia is most definitely not the sole reason Cage’s legacy remains as strong as it is today. I personally know more pop musicians and sound/noise artists that are attracted to Cage’s music and aesthetics than I do academic supporters.

  5. Dodo says:

    I find the article quite good if a bit too generous with Cage and his supposed studies with Schoenberg. As far as experimental music the only reason it thrived and survived in the second half of the twentieth century is because of academia. Take the academic support of the so-called new-music avant-gard away and it would have disappeared overnight … it tried, and tries, to do so anyway

  6. Chris Becker says:

    A professor at NEC years ago took it upon himself to describe Cage’s compositions as “parlour games” with not a little bit of contempt. Gee, what a wonderful thing to tell a student. A–hole.

    I did a down-to-the-1/5-of-a-second realization of Cage’s Imaginary Landscape for a Cage birthday concert here in Houston. Digging into that score and rereading some interviews with the man as research made me even more appreciative of how rigorous he was as a composer. Even if you don’t like listening to his music, and there’s a lot of it to listen to, I can’t imagine why one can’t respect the man as much as Stravinsky or anyone else. Why must there be a hierarchy?

  7. Agreed, Rodney. Although I had a hard time with the thousand years of harmony and counterpoint (really, 1,000 years?) and his dissing Schoenberg. So, where does one begin? If getting your name out there is the point, he succeeded, but really, so many axes to grind, and not very well-informed to boot.

  8. Rodney Lister says:

    I’ve tried very hard to think of how to respond to it, and I find that I in the end it’s just not worth the trouble. It’s like trying to reason with somebody who is convinced that the world is 9000 years old. What can you say? It just makes me tired….

    I appreciate your vigor in responding, though.