Cage, Cunningham and Music

The closure of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company (MCDC), brings an end an important era for the commissioning and live performance of new and experimental music.

The world will miss the regular performances of Merce’s incredible dances, but over the last 58 years, John Cage and Merce Cunningham have commissioned music by many, many composers: David Tudor, David Behrman, Pierre Boulez, Earle Brown, Stuart Dempster, Morton Feldman, John King, Takehisa Kosugi, Gordon Mumma, Pauline Oliveros, Michael Pugliese, Yasunao Tone, Christian Wolff, La Monte Young, and Walter Zimmermann to name a few (the whole list can be viewed here).

Tudor, Kosugi, Adams

I reflect on the music side of things as I had the privilege of working with with MCDC from 1991 – 1996. While an employee, I acted as Music Coordinator, Audio Engineer, Recording Engineer composer and performer. What an incredible opportunity I was given (at the time) by John Cage, Merce Cunningham and David Tudor. I worked with the pioneers of modern dance and experimental music, toured the world and worked in an atmosphere of pure creativity and imagination. There was no economic goal to produce a profit…. only good art. Oh and the people I met! Incredible and unforgettable. I felt welcomed, and respected as a participant in the making of music on the fringe. There were never too many of those jobs in the world, and now, with the Company’s doors closed, I can’t imagine there ever being another salaried job in experimental music production and performance. Ever. In our world of overpowering corporate influence, it just seems like these serious non-for-profit organizations (like MCDC was) just can not possibly survive. What a sad state we’re in for this to happen.

I want to honor what Merce Cunningham and John Cage created in 1953 and pay special attention to how this has influenced the creators of the music. Those commissions have provided work and audiences to a very specialized form of music.

All of us who continue to be active in the field of modern / experimental music will dearly miss the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.