Performance Art and Percussion Per Chance

By Connor Yearsley


Wednesday’s Baylor Percussion Group concert will pay tribute to the life and work of American composer John Cage.

Todd Meehan, assistant professor of percussion at Baylor, said he’s looking forward to the concert.

“I’m very excited, and I think the students are as well,” Meehan said. “This isn’t a run-of-the-mill concert. It’s a special concert commemorating the centennial of John Cage.”

John Cage was born in Los Angeles in 1912. He is regarded as one of the most prolific composers of the 20th century and is closely associated with indeterminacy, which is defined as the employment of chance procedures to create any part of a musical work. This can occur at the time of composition, the time of performance,or both.

Cage is also often classified as an experimentalist. He died in 1992.

Meehan said the concert will coincide with many other worldwide commemorative concerts.

The concert is titled “In and Out of Cage” because Cage’s music and Cage-inspired music are alternately woven together in the five-piece program.

“I wanted to show the influence of Cage,” Meehan said.

The performance will be the group’s first of the semester.

“We’re eager to get back to it,” Meehan said. “We don’t do as many concerts a year as some of the other ensembles. This will be our lone concert of the fall semester. We’re eager to put up on stage this music we’ve worked so hard on for a month and a half now.”

The program will begin with Cage’s “First Construction (in metal),” in which every instrument used is made of metal.

Next, “Qsqsqsqsqqqqqqqqq” by Tristan Perich will use three toy pianos. Meehan said the piece might be the audience’s favorite.

“That one I think goes over really well,” he said.

Cage and Lou Harrison’s “Double Music” is an example of indeterminacy in music. Cage wrote two of the parts and Harrison wrote the other two, with little consultation between them.

Next on the program will be David Gordon’s “Apocryphal Dances.”

Meehan said he thinks that might be the most challenging piece the group will play, and it’s the only one that will need to be conducted.

“It’s not the easiest piece to digest,” Meehan said.

Tyson Voigt, group member and master’s candidate in performance studies, agrees.

“There’s a lot of playing with difficult rhythms and meters in that piece,” Voigt said.

Cage’s “Third Construction” will close the program.

“The linchpin of the whole concert is the ‘Third Construction.’ If we have any masterworks in our repertoire, this would certainly be one of them,” Meehan said. “It’s a cool piece that’s fun to play.”

Voigt said he thinks “Third Construction” is his favorite.

“We own it and we have this version that we’re really proud to show,” he said.

Meehan said the three Cage pieces all have certain things in common.

“These pieces are very rhythmic. They are very alive. It’s kind of 20th century-meets-rock ‘n’ roll,” he said.

Meehan said some exotic instruments will be used for the concert, including tuned German cowbells and a water gong in “First Construction (in metal).” Autoharp, mandolin, prepared piano (piano which has been altered in some way) and an assortment of various slide whistles and pipes will be used for “Apocryphal Dances,” and a conch shell will be used at the climax of “Third Construction.”

Meehan admitted he thinks Cage’s music is often put in a negative light.

“I think Cage is sometimes one of our most misunderstood composers, even by music students. He sometimes gets a bad rap for being that crazy 20th century guy,” he said.

Voigt said the concert will be different.

“Most of the music on this concert is going to sound pretty weird to people. Most audiences probably haven’t heard this stuff before,” Voigt said.

“It’s hard to describe. You just have to experience it.”

He also said he thinks people will be able to look past that.

“I think people will really like it even if they don’t understand why. People will be more intrigued than offended,” Voigt said.

Meehan believes the pieces could be popular.

“I think percussion concerts are something a lot more people could get into if they dipped their toe into the pool,” Meehan said. “We want anybody and everybody. We think we have something really interesting and wonderful to share. We want to expand what people’s concept of music is. There’s usually always something to latch onto.”

Voigt said he hopes whatever people experience will make them want to come to the next concert, and that they will be able to experience the beauty of sound — not melody or harmony, but just sound itself.

Meehan said there will be surprise transitional material during the concert and that people are welcome to look at instruments afterwards.

The concert will begin at 7:30 p.m. in Jones Concert Hall in the Glennis McCrary Music Building and is free and open to the public.