Tips for performing John Cage and other minimalist music


PLAYING THIS KIND OF MUSIC (especially important if you haven’t done this much before!)

One of the most essential things in playing this music, and arguably the hardest, is that you have to ‘let go’ of the desire to make things go the way you think they should go!

For example, since there will be simultaneous performances, it is quite possible that something will be going on at the same time as the piece you are performing which makes it hard to hear what you are playing. You must, at all costs, resist the temptation to play louder in order to be heard! If you are drowned out, so be it. The people close to you will be able to hear what you are doing. Others may not be able to hear you at all. The audience will be mobile: what they will hear will depend very much on where they choose to be… So always think quiet! This is very important – it is easy for the whole thing to escalate out of control and become cacophonous.

Try not to let what you hear around you affect what you yourself are doing. For example, one of the other pieces may be getting louder, or faster, or rhythmic in some way: don’t follow it. Just play what you should be playing. Don’t try to ‘shape’ the performance or impose your will on the overall sound.Similarly, most of the music we are playing is extremely sparse. There will be long silences, and long periods in which almost nothing happens. This is fine. Do not worry about being boring or about having to entertain. You may be tempted to inject extra things into your performance in order to make it ‘interesting’: don’t give in to this! Be disciplined, and play precisely what you have to play without adornment or additions. In my experience, attempting to make very sparse and minimalist music ‘more interesting’ by adding things usually has precisely the opposite effect! Pare down what you are doing to its simplest; shave away absolutely everything inessential. Be calm. Be simple. Be sincere. You may feel quite uncomfortable for a while, but you will find a gorgeous transformation come over you as you get into the timescale of the music…

This is music of meditation, of serenity, of humility. It is not about us, the performers. Accept that, and it will be a transcendent experience!

Enjoy 🙂


Thanks to John Godfrey for this.

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