Tonight an Australian student wrote me to ask if I happened to know anything about the courses John Cage taught at The New School in the ’50s. I’m not sure why she reached out to me in particular, but I’m glad she did. Nearly everyone at The New School knows of Cage’s storied composition course, but very few of us, it seems, knowmuch about it. The email inquiry reminded me that our archivists, led by the fabulous Wendy Scheir, had recently finished scanning all the university course catalogues since 1919 (along with university scrapbooks, the American Race Crisis Lecture Series of 1964, and the Hannah Arendt Papers). So, I skimmed through the 1956-1959 catalogues and located Cage’s “Experimental Composition” course, first offered, as far as I can tell, in the Fall of 1956. You can see the course description above.
As Jacqui Alexander writes in Pedagogies of Crossing, since the inception of its Adult Division in 1919, “The New School was envisioned as a place for new pedagogic practices [and] interdisciplinarity, and as an experiment to place education in the service of transformation… [I]ts reputation derived both from an alternative vision of education and from its outsider status — outside the Ivy League.” Over the years the university has both embraced those ideals and, at the same time, struggled to overcome the liabilities of perpetual “outsider”/”radical” status. It, like all universities, has weathered periods of unrest, and, most recently, suffered some growing pains. Regardless, many of us remain proud to be affiliated with an institution that, throughout its history, has drawn “outsiders” and brave thinkers and creators like Cage, who was preceded by Martha Graham, Edwin Piscator, Aaron Copland …and the following:
Also in 1926, what is probably one of the first film studies classes:
1940 seemed to be a particularly vibrant year:
I could’ve spent all day skimming through these old catalogues, but I forced myself to stop around 1940. Yet I had to include this, from 1963: