Date of Award

Spring 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA)



Committee Chair

Galit Kaunitz

Committee Chair School


Committee Member 2

Joseph Brumbeloe

Committee Member 2 School


Committee Member 3

Edward Hafer

Committee Member 3 School


Committee Member 4

Jackie McIlwain

Committee Member 4 School


Committee Member 5

Kimberly Woolly

Committee Member 5 School



In the years following World War II, several American composers began breaking from the confines of music notation relegated to five lines and four spaces. Of particular interest to this study, John Cage (1912–1992) began liberating his compositions from the restraint posed by traditional notation in 1951 with his work Imaginary Landscape No. 4. He continued to create and develop varying systems of graphic notation with his indeterminate works, which became increasingly influenced by his interest in the environment and in South and East Asian aesthetic and philosophical considerations, themselves environmentally influenced. One of the latest products of Cage’s coalescence of Asian aesthetics and graphic notation was Ryoanji for solo oboe with percussion obbligato (1983). Inspired by his visit to the Ryōan-ji dry landscape garden in Kyoto, Japan, Cage created graphic notation for his piece bearing the same name by tracing the contours of fifteen rocks onto modified manuscript staves.

Although significant research examines the Asian philosophical and aesthetic influences on John Cage’s compositions, and more recent scholarship has examined his works through the lens of ecocritical methodologies, very little critical attention has been given to the ways in which environmentalism informed his compositional process. Furthermore, even less has been given to performance practice considerations in his works.

By examining Ryoanji through an ecocritical lens and exploring the impact of Cage’s relationship with the natural environment on his compositional process in this piece, this monograph will show that Cage’s ecomusicological aesthetic was used to inform his works and specifically this piece. Additionally, this study will offer an ecocritical reading of Ryoanji to illustrate how Cage’s environmental considerations could inform performing practices of Ryoanji for Solo Oboe and Percussion Obbligato.