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Margaret Leng Tan(1945-): Avant-garde Pianist and her Reconstruction of John Cage

John Cage Chess Pieces
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John Cage Chess Pieces


Dancing around the Bride: Cage, Cunningham, Johns, Rauschenberg, and Duchamp at the Philadelphia Museum of Art through January 21, 2013.

Stratoz and I took a trip to the Philadelphia Art Museum, and saw the Dancing around the Bride exhibit, about 4 artists who enjoyed working with each other, inspiring each other and playing with their art forms of music, dance and visual art.  I was intrigued by the room of art inspired by chess, and the John Cage work made of bits of music notation in a light-dark chess pattern.  Reading the tag, I discovered that for many years the general assumption was that the music was not “playable” but purely visual, but pianist Margaret Leng Tan transcribed it into a score.  She deciphered the original scraps of paper, like making an aural collage, or cryptography of assumptions.

Margaret Leng Tan is originally from Singapore and came to the Juilliard School in her teens and was the first woman to earn a doctorate there in 1971.  She collaborated with John Cage for many years, as well as becoming rapt with toy pianos, and transforms them into full musical expression.  I remember the toy piano I had as a child, in a vivid blue, and how it was within my grasp, the right size for my reach.  Here is a video of her playing Eleanor Rigby by the Beatles on a toy piano:

Margaret Leng Tan’s Website


  1. mary aalgaard says:

    That is so cool. Loved the video, too. It looks like she’s sitting on the tiny stool. It’s great to learn about artists inspiring each other.

  2. Dear Margaret,
    Thanks for this lovely post. Alas, I think you missed my live performance in the auditorium that Sunday afternoon of Cage’s Sonatas&interludes.
    There was a nice write-up in the Philly Inquirer today:

    I am glad you got to enjoy the Bride. DId you hear my ghost playing on the piano just outside the exhibition, by the marquee?
    Happy holidays and remember to celebrate The Feast of the Invincible Sun on the Solstice!

    • Dear Margaret,
      What a pleasure to receive your comment on my post! Yes, sadly, I didn’t realize there was a live performance happening, but I did hear your ghostly playing by the marquee. And I was glad to be introduced to your work. The Feast of the Invincible Sun sounds like a worthy celebration. M.

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