The History Behind the Woman Who Founded the Music Department at Drew

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By Nina Campli, Assistant Student Life and Arts Editor

Ever wondered who Drew’s music department was founded by? Her name was Dika Newlin, and she was quite a character. Born in 1923, she was noticed for her composition skills at an early age after composing “Cradle Song,” a piece for piano. Conductor Vladimir Bakaleinikoff orchestrated the piece and performed it with the Cincinnati Symphony in 1935. By 1939, at age 16, she earned her bachelor’s degree and enrolled at the University of California at Los Angeles. At the time that she enrolled, Schoenberg was a member of the faculty and she intensely studied composition under him. By 1941, she had completed her Master of Arts degree.  She then went on to earn Columbia University’s first Ph.D. in musicology, graduating in 1945. Shortly afterwards, in 1952, she founded the Drew music department. In her later years she embraced punk rock. She had always been a little radical, which her students at North Texas State University (now the University of North Texas) had embraced and taken in stride. Although she had always been avant garde, she still found it difficult to step out from under Schoenberg’s shadow after his death in 1951. Dika was always shy but simultaneously eccentric in behavior and dress. She was the model definition of a cat lady- she loved them and owned many.  While in Texas, she became a cultural icon and folk hero to both students and hippie radicals. She often used computer generated sounds and visual images, which were occasionally enriched by live performers. However, some of the pieces had no visual imagery or computer sounds. One of the most memorable of these pieces is Serial Music. For this piece she walked on stage with a box of Rice Krispies, sat down at a small table, poured the cereal into a bowl, added milk and ate it with a spoon in front of a microphone. After her time in Texas she went on hiatus prior to moving to Virginia Commonwealth University where she worked until she retired in 2004.

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