A Wild Voice Falls Silent After Giving One Last Performance: Dika Newlin
"Her pale blue eyes are closed, but she's awake. I remind her that she launched my journalism career. Back in the late 1970s and early '80s, she was a freelance music critic for The Times-Dispatch. One of her reviews rubbed me the wrong way so vigorously - as much of Dika's creative output tended to do - that I vowed to become a T-D music critic myself.
Now it's her irreverent "The Elderly" casting a pall on the sun-washed room: "The elderly, the elderly, the rackety packety, rickety pickety . . . "
You can't help wondering: Could this highly trained woman sing in tune at gunpoint?
I recall one of her performances at the now-defunct 6th Street Marketplace. Her dissonant piano composition and (deliberately?) off-key screeching had shoppers and passersby staring furtively and fleeing stiff-legged.
If they had been cats, the fur would have stood up on their necks.
Which was Dika's goal. It's why she rocked like a punk. It's why one of her favorite photos (and paintings) reveals her gnomish body stretched out on a pool float, gloriously insulting a swimsuit.
She has been a touchstone in a town where a humid sedateness has been counterbalanced by a cool and outrageous art and music scene. (Richmond's punk scene, for example, is known around the world.)
Virginia Commonwealth University barely endured her tenure as a hands-off music professor - the polar opposite of Schoenberg's overbearing style.
She read dictionaries at age 3, began composing at 8, graduated high school at 12, had a symphony play one of her compositions at 14, finished college at 16 and had her doctorate at 22. One of her books on Schoenberg "will be read by generations to come," wrote a critic for The New York Review of Books."