Kids play Cage with a little help from Southland Ensemble

Kids play Cage with a little help from Southland Ensemble
John Cage on the roof of the Embassy Theater in Los Angeles in 1987 at a concert celebrating his 75th birthday. (Los Angeles Times)

Thursday is not, like Sept. 5 last year, a big day for John Cage. That day had been the 100th anniversary of the composer's birth in Los Angeles, and the world celebrated. But if no one thought of the obvious Cagean celebration this year of performing the composer's orchestra piece  "101," at least 30 middle and high school kids in Eagle Rock have the right idea.

At the Center for the Arts Eagle Rock -- a 15-minute bike ride from where Cage lived as teenager on Moss Avenue -- SASSAS (the Society for the Activation of Social Space Through Art and Sound) and Harmony Project hosted three workshops this week on the life and music of the birthday boy. On Sunday afternoon, the students will present a concert, called "Kids Play Cage," of what they came up with.


And whatever they come up with will have to include their considering what music is, what silence is and what role  chance plays in art. Those are the questions with which Cage challenged the basic tenets of music, and he left behind a world that now has a more open mind to music than it had had before him.

John Cage: Timeline | Music | Inspiration

The challengers in this case, those who led the workshops, are members of the Southland Ensemble, a new group of young musicians and composers with a fascination for the experiments of the American avant-garde. At a concert performance at Automata, a gallery in Chinatown, the ensemble realized a graphically notated score from  "Changing the System" by Christian Wolff, the remaining member of Cage's New York School.

The performance was terrific, true both to Wolff's 1970s activism (the title came from a line by Tom Hayden) and to the need for reinvention. The piece asks more questions than it answers, and requires the players to come up with creative solutions within a contemporary context. That, of course, is also a credential for teaching music, so the kids should be in good hands.

Information on "Kids Play Cage" here.