NIU to host New Music Festival this week

Katie Finlon

Modern musicians push the boundaries of how the art form is defined, often by creating music in very unconventional ways.

NIU’s New Music Ensemble, directed by assistant percussion professor Greg Beyer, will host its third New Music Festival today and Wednesday in the music building.

The festival is to commemorate American contemporary composer John Cage’s 100th birthday and his influence on the world of music. It will include performances from the ensemble and School of Music faculty and will feature Australian pianist/percussion duo Clocked Out.

When Beyer first came to NIU, he noticed there wasn’t a huge interest in contemporary music within the School of Music and there was no New Music Ensemble. When he formed the ensemble, it was initially met with resistance. But after the ensemble performed Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians, the piece and the group were a hit.

Cage contributed the idea of music being left to chance, particularly in the structure of his works. His famous piece 4′33″ is four minutes and 33 seconds of silence while noises outside of the piece can be heard, and the length of each of the three movements is determined by flipping a coin.

“But that’s his question: If you sit and listen to silence, isn’t that also music?” Beyer said.

Some of Cage’s works that will be played at the festival include a spoken work piece called Lecture on Nothing, performed by a group of School of Music faculty that includes Beyer, and Concerto for Prepared Piano and Chamber Orchestra. Prepared piano, also an innovation by Cage, is a piano with bolts and other objects strategically placed in between the strings.

While one might not see the connection initially, Cage’s work is a huge inspiration for Clocked Out—so much, in fact, the duo curated an international celebration of Cage’s music called The Cage in Us, which was held in April in Brisbane, Australia.

Beyer said the duo is good as musicians on their own, but the connection to Cage will make a very special statement.

Some people don’t consider Cage’s work music because it’s not what people are used to when they think of music, said Chris Mrofcza, sophomore percussion performance major.

“It’s an art form—it’s an extreme art form—and I think people should expose themselves to that,” Mrofcza said. “That’s what being a healthy culture’s all about.”

Beyer agrees that while some might not know much about Cage, they can certainly leave with a different take on music as a whole.

“They will gain an appreciation for what music can be and for the beauty of willing to be in the moment,” Beyer said. “The ability to sit and listen and enjoy the act of being, of simply being, and being present.”