Secret Piece


Program Note

Secret Piece was written in private in 1953 (and published in Grapefruit in 1964), when Ono was just 19 and about to move to New York. She had previously been the first female student in the prestigious philosophy course at Gakushūin University in Japan. Before that, she received classical music training, and one of her composition exercises involved listening to sounds in nature and translating them into musical notation. The first version of Secret Piece (printed on the lower portion of the page) shows the essential impossibility of such tasks. It has one held F note in the bass clef and, where performance directions would usually be written, the inscription, “with the accompaniment of the birds singing at dawn.” The simplicity of the gesture belied radical redrawing of the hierarchies between composer, performer, and listener. Ono’s haiku-like text version of the score was written a short while afterwards (on the upper portion of the page) and removed the musical stave altogether. Instead, it offered a verbal instruction that could be realized in reality or in the mind. It was a drastically different approach to birdsong than, for example, that of Olivier Messiaen, who debuted his awe-inspiring but intricately complex Réveil des oiseaux for piano and orchestra that same year. The simplicity of Ono’s composition suggested, on the other hand, that any person could be a composer or performer, just as long as they paid enough attention to the beauty of the everyday sounds around them. There was no need for a conventional orchestra or an elite musical education. -Cameron Foote, Museum of Modern Art

About Yoko Ono

Yoko Ono (/ˈjoʊkoʊ ˈoʊnoʊ/ YOH-koh OH-noh; Japanese: 小野 洋子, romanized: Ono Yōko, usually spelled in katakana オノ・ヨーコ; born February 18, 1933) is a Japanese multimedia artist, singer, songwriter, and peace…