NEW YORK (Special to TSD AfterDark) Leonard Phelps, 61, a renowned sculptor and architect, still enjoys a successful career, as well as spending time with his family, shuttling between his Manhattan penthouse apartment and Long Island weekend home. However, Phelps continues to battle nightmares from an incident that occurred fifty years ago in a 6th grade music class visited by composer and “chance” musician, John Cage, who was invited to participate in Mrs. Thelma Prescott’s musical chairs experiment.
Though Cage, who died in 1992, wrote hundreds of compositions in his long career, it is his 1952 piece entitled 4’33” (four minutes, thirty-three seconds) which consists of environmental sounds, amounting mostly to silence, which left Phelps and several other friends and classmates confused and horrified.
“It kinda freaked us out.” said Phelps. “There was a cellist, pianist, tympanist, oboist and bassoonist in the room. Everything seemed normal as the musicians readied themselves with their instruments. Then it got weird when they never played one friggin’ note. Cage yelled “begin!” Then we all started walking around the chairs in utter confusion. I recall asking ‘when does the music start?’. He barked back, ‘Ahh, it has my boy, it has!’ Much to Cage’s delight, we meandered aimlessly around the chairs as he chortled and snorted in utter glee as his tour de force of silence raged on. That’s when Susie Hislop screamed ‘this isn’t music! I can’t dance to this. You got any Frankie Avalon or Beach Boys?’
After four minutes and thirty-three seconds, Cage instructed the musicians to pack up their instruments and leave.
“We were all in a daze afterward, uncertain of what to say, do or think.” added Phelps. “Milton Hack, a rather plump tuba player in our concert band, stayed after class insisting he was the winner of musical chairs, claiming the music is still playing. In fact, I’ve heard he’s still in that very same classroom today. I’m sure Cage would appreciate that in his own weird way.”