Dika Newlin, a Fan of Piano and Punk

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Robert Siegel talks with Clarke Bustard, retired music critic at the Richmond Times Dispatch, about the death of musician Dika Newlin. Newlin was a Schoenberg-trained composer and professor who developed a propensity for punk rock later in life.


From the obituary pages, we've learned of the common thread between the music of the Viennese-born composer Arnold Schoenberg, who fled Nazi Germany for the United States, music like this -

(Soundbite of Shoenberg)

SIEGEL: - and this song heard in the independent film of the same name, Murder City.

(Soundbite of Murder City)

Ms. DIKA NEWLIN (Musician): (Singing) I live in Murder City, trying my best to stay alive.

SIEGEL: The answer is Dika Newlin who died last weekend at the age of 82. She was one of Schoenberg's last surviving students. She was Schoenberg scholar. And Murder City was one of the pieces she wrote and sang in her later years. She also wrote operas, symphony and chamber music. She was child prodigy, a Columbia PhD at 22, a critic, a long time professor of music at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond and somehow, in later life, a fan and practitioner of punk rock.

Clarke Bustard is retired music critic for the Richmond Times Dispatch. Dika Newlin was his friend.

Mr. CLARKE BUSTARD (Music Critic): She was a very tiny woman, probably five feet tall at most. She was not physically attractive but she was able to exploit her looks in a way that got your attention.

SIEGEL: She was performing with punk rock bands in Richmond, Virginia, I gather, when she was in her '70s. What's the connection between being a young student of Schoenberg and a senior punk?

Mr. BUSTARD: She found that there was a continuity to it, she liked to point out that Schoenberg and others of his generation wrote for the cabarets, which would have been I suppose the punk rock, or the night club rock, of their time. She felt like she was doing the same thing.

SIEGEL: And she managed to shuttle fairly easily between the headbangers who were a third her age and the classical music scene in Richmond?

Mr. BUSTARD: Oh yes, yes, she could be found at chamber music concerts or the opera or performing as an Elvis impersonator.

SIEGEL: Can you enlighten us at all about this song, Murder Kity.

Mr. BUSTARD: Dika was a great cat lover. She had as many as eight cats living with her at some points. And late in life, she started making recordings of Cats, Murder Kitty, which was the follow-up to Murder City, featured cat vocalizations.

(Soundbite of Murder Kitty)

Ms. NEWLIN: Meow, meow, meow.

Mr. BUSTARD: That's Dika impersonating a cat singing Shubert from the sounds of it. Which is pluperfect Dika.

SIEGEL: I assume that the fairly plodding piano that we're hearing at the moment, she was still capable of playing a lot better piano than that as I assume.

Mr. BUSTARD: I believe she was. I think she was doing that for effect.


(Soundbite of Murder Kitty)

Ms. NEWLIN: Meow, meow, meow, meow, meow, meow, meow, meow.

SIEGEL: Actually she seemed like she was quite a hoot.

Mr. BUSTARD: She was a singular personality no question about that.

SIEGEL: Well, Mr. Bustard thank you very much about your late friend, Dika Newlin.

Mr.BUSTARD: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Former music critic of the Richmond Times Dispatch Clarke Bustard, talking about his friend the late Dika Newlin, who died last week at the age of 82.

Ms. NEWLIN: Meow, meow, meow.

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