John Cage Piano Workshop – Bexley, Ohio

I was elated to have Dr. Chris Durrenberger host a workshop on John Cage at Capital University in Bexley. Dr. Durrenberger is a piano professor at Whittenberg University who recently toured China performing the works of John Cage and those of Ives and Copland as part of an American music program. While the seminar was initiated to expose my studio students taking piano lessons in Bexley Ohio, we opened the workshop to the public so that everyone could enjoy the music of John Cage, explained and played live.

John Cage was an innovative American composer.  One of his most famous inventions, prepared piano, grew out of necessity. The composer was working with a modern dance group who needed percussive accompaniment but lacked space for a full ensemble. John Cage began to experiment by placing nuts, screws, pieces of rubber and other materials inside the piano (see pic below). Voila, he created a full percussive ensemble at the piano!

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At the workshop, Dr. Durrenberger gave a demonstration of Cage”s prepared piano with student volunteers and a performance of Sonatas 1-8 written specifically for this altered instrument. During the demonstration Dr. Durrenberger asked for a volunteer to play a short passage from each sonata–that”s 8 volunteers! I was nervous that the students would be afraid to go to the stage but curiosity triumphed over shyness and the students were thrilled at the opportunity to play on the drum kit piano. Each student played first on an unprepared piano and then on a prepared piano to hear the contrast. The hardware profoundly changed the sound of the instrument-the rubber muted the sound, the screws made a ringing gong sound and the nuts rattled like a snake. The performance was equally fascinating. My favorite was Sonata No. 5  (click on the link to listen!). The ostinato left hand and syncopated melody give this piece a strong percussive sound.

Overall, I would say this workshop was a wonderful learning experience for everyone involved.

– Jennifer Stadler, NCTM Piano Teacher Oklahoma City, Oklahoma