Embracing the Walls Within (John Cage)

In our dog-eared A Year From Monday, we read this astonishing story from John Cage, in Lecture on Commitment:

 …when Schoenberg asked me whether I would devote my life
to music,      I said,      “Of course.”   After I had been studying 
with him for two years, Schoenberg said,      “In order to write 
music, you must have a feeling for harmony.”   I explained to him 
that I had no feeling for harmony. He then said that I would always
encounter an obstacle,       that it would be as though I came to a 
wall through which I could not pass.          I said,       “In that case
I will devote my  life  to  beating  my  head  against  that  wall.”


As usual, Cage nailed it.  He went on to create a whole other order of music that set off a tectonic shift in the music, art, how we see. His whole life seemed to be one of deep listening, not only to what was around him but to himself, following his interests, exploring, finding his way around, or through, obstacles by virtue of his unique point of view:

If there were a part       of life dark enough     to keep out of it     a       light     from     art     I     would      want     to be in that darkness,     fumbling around             if necessary,               but alive

Constantino Nivola Wall

Cages words really made us think: Of the brilliant college student advised against going for an engineering degree because his math grades aren’t great, whom we’ve seen solve complex engineering problems though his own, very original route.

…Of just about everyone we know, artist or not,  grappling with “an obstacle…a wall through which they cannot seem to pass”. Cage reminds us that finding the way around or through or over comes from the willingness to “beat our head against the wall”…

….echoing Emerson’s wise insight:

Every wall is a door


One Response to Embracing the Walls Within (John Cage)

  1. Flavia Bacarella 08.18.2017 at 3:05pm #

    thanks especially for this post Sally….much needed at this moment!

Leave A Comment

subscribing = loving

If the Improvised Life is a source of creativity, inspiration, ideas and change in your daily life, please consider becoming a Friend with Benefits. A little bit goes a long way towards helping us publish fresh AD-FREE content each day.