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Prepared piano strange, lovely


Some keys, when struck, gave off sounds of bells, some make traditional piano sounds and others sounded like a rubber band wrapped around a small three-sided box. Sometimes, the combination of the sounds was so sinister that it could have been background music to the scary scenes in the first screen adaptation of Stephen King’s, The Shining.

A conventional music-lover might not enjoy this mixture of sounds; however, last Wednesday night, the audience found visiting pianist Katherine Suescun’s performance of Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano different, yet playful and accessible.

“The moments I preferred were the ones that kind of created a dizzying effect,” said a former Mills graduate student. “There are moments when the music spirals back on itself. It creates a sense of vertigo.”

A composition of former Mills professor John Cage, the piece calls for preparation of the piano by inserting various mutes, in this case silver screws, in between its strings, altering its sound dramatically.

Suescun, a 22-year-old senior at the Universidad Javeriana in Bogota, Colombia, began musical studies at the age of seven and studied the piano at 12-years-old. She has a special interest in contemporary music and feels it is more relaxing to perform works of 20th century composers like John Cage than the classical works of Beethoven or Chopin. “It’s like a meditation,” said Suescun. “John Cage was very interested in Zen Buddhism. His philosophies are in Asian traditions. He was a very important but strange composer.”

According to Suescun, classical music is popular in Colombia. When she gave the first performance of Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes there last June, people were not as receptive to it at first but grew to like it.

Some Mills audience members were pleasantly surprised. “This performance was not what I was expecting,” said senior Janelle Taylor. “I thought it would sound less pleasing to the ear. It was actually quite beautiful.”

Music major Megan McClure, said she is a fan of Cage and was excited to hear the music played in person. “I think John Cage redefines what conventional music and instrumentation are,” said McClure. “For the person who isn’t familiar with Cage, he sort of challenges what piano music should be.”