Obituary: Dika Newlin

You’ve seen those kids on TV playing Beethoven perfectly when they are like 4 years old? Or doing calculus at 6? They are often called “child prodigies”. I always wonder what happens to these kids when they grow up. The implication when they are shown performing amazing feats as children is to just imagine what miracles they will whip out in their 30’s or 50’s.

Well that almost never seems to come true. Take Dika Newlin, who just passed away recently. She was a musical prodigy as a child…

At age 11, Newlin composed a symphonic work, “Cradle Song,” which was performed by the Cincinnati Symphony. A few years later, in 1941, the work was performed in New York with another prodigy, 11-year-old Lorin Maazel, at the NBC Summer Symphony podium.

Newlin was among the last surviving pupils of Arnold Schoenberg. Her 1980 book Schoenberg Remembered: Diaries and Recollections 1938-76, traces her experiences studying with the composer.

A native of Portland, Oregon, Newlin graduated from the University of Michigan at 16 and earned a doctorate from Columbia University at 22.

And while she was no slouch in her later life…

Newlin composed three operas, a symphony, a piano concerto and chamber works, and she began exploring popular music in the mid-’80s.

I doubt one could say she changed the world in ways you might have expected when first hearing her play as a child.

Inspired by her college students, she sang and played keyboards in a band called Apocowlypso. More recently [in her 70’s] she performed as a flame-haired punk rocker and performance artist, singing works such as “Murder Kitty,” composed solely of meows.

Dika Newlin died recently at age 82. But one thing can be said for certain, she enjoyed her life. Every minute of it from I can tell, and maybe that’s where her real genius lies.


Sources: Yahoo News and Playbill Arts


6 Responses to Obituary: Dika Newlin

  1. julie jumper says:

    How did you hear about Dika? She was one of my music teachers/advisers in the early 1980’s. I gave her a punkrock makeover, was a backup singer for her first pop performance & I produced her first pop-songs on my little teac 4-track cassette recorder. I’m so sad to hear that she’s gone. What a loss. I really loved her. As odd as she was, she helped me make sense of the world that , at age 20, was so baffling. (…….And still is.)
    Thanks for posting her obituary.

  2. Bradley says:

    Apologies for not seeing your post Julie… I’ve been on temporary/permanent hiatus.

    Anyway, if you are still looking… I heard about her first in a story on NPR about her life and passing. I found her to be instantly fascinating for a number of reasons (some mentioned above). I then did some reading to learn more about her life.

    I’ve never met her. If I had, I may not have even liked her. But I do admire her.

    Thanks for visiting!

  3. Irwin Moss says:

    I never knew her when I was at Syracuse University, 1949-53. I remember waiting on her in the local college bookstore where I was a clerk, but her countenance prevented me from engaging her in conversation. (I add that I had no trouble chatting with Louis Krasner, who 1st played and recorded the Berg vn conc; lovely man.) She was legendary, at least to those few of us non music majors who knew the name Schonberg. She wrote about him, it was whispered. I have vivid memories of her walking down Crouse Avenue, coming from the School of Fine Arts and passing the store where I worked. She was very round-shouldered and seemed to huddle within her long coat tighening her arms around her body. She carried a brief case, and was always alone. I did not see her hair gaudily covered, rather she seemed to wear it in a Louise Brooks cut, sometimes with a hat (beret?) other times with a scarf or bandana, and other times with no head covering.
    I have never forgotten that image, and kick myself for my shyness/cowardness. FYI, I came across her name polking around seeking some bios of Mahler.

    Irwin Moss,

  4. Rita says:

    I was a student at VCU and saw Dika Newlin everyday… she often dined alone at Stella’s on Harrison Street where I tended bar/waited tables and she always ordered a Stinger. I saw her punk debut and was delightfully impressed, but had already named a cat “Dika Newlin” in her honor.

  5. Norma says:

    I had Dr. Newlin for 8 different courses at North Texas State University (now University of North Texas) back in the early 70s. She was remarkable, both for her incredible expertise and abilities, as well as for her humor. (A student complained that it was difficult to recognize a piece on a listening exam because the record player didn’t always turn at the right speed to make the key recognizable. Dr. Newlin replied, “I guess you just have to memorize the colors of the record labels like the rest of us do.”) I was sorry when she left for Virginia. There was something quite wonderful about having a true ‘character’ around the NTSU School of Music.

    • philip goldman says:

      I met Dika at Yaddo in the late sixties, She was extraordinary. So open and in a way too vunerable. A figure of fun and also for some derision in the way she apeared at first sight. I befriended her and she responded. Was she capable of deep love.? My answer would be yes. Dika was at that time a whole bag of unexploded emotion. A wonderful human being. She composed a small piece of piano music as her contribution at the time when we all did our thing for Yaddo and its guests. Dika sat at the piano and this small brlliant and fragrant piece was presented to us all.

      We became good friends even separated by several thousand miles. My home was in the U.K. She did pay us a visit in London some time later and I felt a deep sadness on her departure A Unforgettable icon
      in ones memory.

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