- Pamela Jolicoeur
- Paul J. Dovre
- Anna Rhode â€™09
- Arland Jacobson
- Larry Papenfuss
- Polly Kloster
- Roger Degerman
- Stephanie Ahlfeldt
- Susan Oâ€™Shaughnessy
- Kristi Rendahl
- Dr. Heidi Manning
- Roy Hammerling
- Pamela Jolicoeur
- Jan Pranger
- Nikoli Falenschek '11
- Bruce Vieweg
- Dr. Paul Dovre
- Whitney Myhra '11
- Bruce Houglum
- Dr. Lisa Sethre-Hofstad
- Dr. Paul Dovre, Interim President
- Nick Ellig
- Virginia Connell
- Per Anderson
- Vincent Reusch
- Larry Papenfuss
- Carl-Martin Nelson
- President William Craft
- Dr. Olin Storvick
- George Connell
- Robert Chabora
Dr. Robert Chabora, Music
Wednesday, 26 September 2012
21 years ago, I was on sabbatical from the University of Maine at Fort Kent, and I spent the year at Michigan State University in East Lansing, where my wife, Pamela, was studying theater. That year I studied piano, musicology, art, and architecture. It was a very busy year, with no time to spare, and certainly no time for leisure reading. That activity had to wait until the summer. All along, though, I had my eye on an interesting looking book. This one:
Foucault’s Pendulum, by Italian writer, Umberto Eco:
Here is a photo of Mr. Eco:
Umberto Eco is not only one of the world’s best known and best selling authors, he is also Professor of semiotics at the University of Bologna. Semiotics is the study of the meaning of symbols.
If you have seen the film, The Da Vinci Code, you might remember the opening scene in which the character, Robert Langdon (played by Tom Hanks) shows and analyzes the meaning of images as they are interpreted by diverse cultures. That is one of the things that a semiotician does, and Umberto Eco is the real deal. Contemporary critics call Foucault’s Pendulum, “a thinking man’s Da Vinci Code.”
When my sabbatical year came to a end, we packed our bags and headed for the east coast, stopping along the way in Philadelphia. There my wife, Pamela, would be attending a four-day theater conference and our son, Ethan, and I would be doing touristy things in the city.
We camped in West Chester, Pennsylavnia, about an hour southwest of Philadelphia. On a beautiful late July morning, I had an early start to the day. I put on a pot of coffee and began to read Foucault’s Pendulum. After just several pages, I was hooked: Here is a pasage from that opening:
EXCERPT from Foucault’s Pendulum:
That was when I saw the Pendulum.
The sphere, hanging from a long wire set into the ceiling of the choir, swayed back and forth with isochronal majesty.
I knew—but anyone could have sensed it in the magic of that serene breathing—that the period was governed by the square root of the length of the wire and by π, that number which, however irrational to sublunar minds, through a higher rationality binds the circumference and diameter of all poissible circles. The time it took the sphere to swing from end to end was determined by an arcane conspiracy between the most timeless of measures: the singularity of the point of suspension, the duality of the plane’s dimensions, the triadic beginning of π, the secret quadratic nature of the root, and the unnumbered perfection of the circle itself.
I was roused by a listless exchange between a boy who wore glassed and a girl who unfortunateliy did not.
“It’s Foucault’s Pendulum,” he was saying. “First tried out in a cellar in 1851, then shown at the Observaroire, and later under the dome of the Pantheon with a wire sixty-seven meters long and a sphere weighing twenty-eoght kilos. Since 1855 it’s been here, in a smaller version, hanging from that hole in the middle of the rib.”
“What does it do? Just hang there?”
“It proves the rotation of the earth. Since the point of suspension doesn’t move…”
“Why doesn’t it move?”
“Well, because a point…the central point, I mean, the one right in the middle of all the points you see…it’s a geometric point; you can’t see it because if has no dimension, and if something has no dimension, it can’t move, not right or left, not up or down. So it doesn’t rotate with the earth. You understand? It can’t even rotate around itself. There is no ‘itself.’ “
“But the earth turns.”
“The earth turns, but the point doesn’t. That’s how it is. Just take my word for it.”
“I guess it’s the Pendulum’s business.”
Idiot. Above her head was the only stable place in the cosmos, the only refuge from damnation of the panta rei, and she guessed it was the Pendulum’s business, not hers. A moment later the couple went off—he, trained on some textbook that had blunted his capacity for wonder, she, inert and insensitive to the thrill of the infinite, both oblivious of the awesomeness of their encounter—their first andlast encounter—with the One, the Ein Sof, the Ineffable. How could you fail to kneel down before this altar of certitude?
In 1851, French Physicist Jean Bernard Leon Foucault suspended a pendulum from the dome of the Pantheon in Paris.
Designed by Jacques-Germain Soufflot, the Pantheon was completed in 1791 after many years of construction. It now serves as a secular museum. Here is an interior view:
And here is the pendulum as it now appears:
What you see in this photo is actually only a copy of the original. Nonetheless, that very simple device puts to rest all questions about the rotation of the earth and proves to us all that we are eternal travelers. The plane of the arc of the pendulum appears to rotate, but in fact, it never changes. It is the earth that rotates around the pendulum, and around every other pendulum that hangs on this earth. It is a bewildering phenomenon: mysterious and simple, but complex.
On the afternoon of the morning during which I first read those opening pages, my son and I traveled to downtown Philadelphia to visit the first of our tourist destinations: the great science museum, the Franklin Institute. I visited it once before as a youngster. I have never forgotten that first visit, and I wanted my son to have that same great experience.
We entered the front door, turned to the right and guess what? Foucault’s pendulum, right before our eyes! With its wonders fresh on my mind, I knew this would take some time.
I remained there for a long time, quite transfixed, watching the pendulum etch its perfect path in the sand below the weight, and trying my best not to be like the boy with glasses, whose capacity for wonder had been blunted by some textbook. I tried instead to believe and feel that I was in motion about the plane of the arc, and that the bolt in the ceiling would then become the only fixed point in the heavens, around which I, the stairwell, the Franklin Institutie, the city of Philadelphia and the entire nation and world would revolve.
I thought a bit deeper, and at one point, I imagined all humankind reduced to a microcosm to inhabit the sphere at the end of the cable. They would look up and see the bolt from which the whole was suspended and see that point as the center of the universe, the only stationery point in the cosmos.
They would then look up and perhaps imagine: that place is heaven, the home of God, the source, the beginning, the center of omnipotent truth, beauty, and wisdom.
I thought about the meaning of life, and my first questions were about my own life, and I decided at that point, that it is not human nature to spend our lives worrying about what’s out there, or about the needs of others above our own. We can’t help but to think first about our own well-being and needs. Each of us sees ourselves as a center of the universe around which the whole revolves.
If I am the center of the universe, what is inside me? I know it is not omnipotent truth, beauty and wisdom. And staring at the pendulum prompted me to ask the “Who am I?” question. What have I learned? What have I come to believe?” What do I stand for?
I recalled four moments in my life, and four people who changed my life, just about the time I was stepping into adulthood.
I was taken back to Denmark in the spring of 1970, during a semester abroad in Denmark at the University of Copenhagen.
Among the course I took was the History of European Art. Our professor was Knud Voss. He was not only a storehouse of information, but also an inspiration as well. His pedagogy was the lecture:
The class met three afternoons each week in two-hour sessions. In a typical class, Professor Voss would sit at an empty table in front of the room, gaze down at the table or floor, and lecture (without notes) for two straight hours. For American students, accustomed to a more demonstrative style of teaching, Professor Voss’s class was a challenge. This went on for two weeks, and at the end of a Friday afternoon, Voss said, “On Monday, we will see slides.” The students rejoiced silently.
On Monday afternoon Professor Voss put a slide into the projector, sat down at his table, and lectured on the slide for one hour, after which he changed the slide and spoke about that for the second hour. Over time, Voss’s passion and knowledge won the day, and he convinced us all of the importance of art in our lives.
At the conclusion of the semester, the students glowed with appreciation, and when we expressed such things to him, he humbly dodged the accolades with a delightful and self-effacing shrug and said, “What I know, I know from books.” And I thought, “Got it!” I must become my own teacher, and I became an avid reader from that moment.
In Denmark, I lived about 25 miles south of Copenhagen in picturesque Jersie Strand (Jersey Beach).
I had Danish mother, Annelise, a Danish sister, and two Danish brothers. They accepted me as a member of the family, and I loved it. They invited me to remain there for the summer, which I did.
I recall one August afternoon walking on the beach with Annelise and talking with her about life. Now I think back and squirm with embarrassment about the conversation that took place. I was a 23-year old living a charmed life, and yet I was complaining childishly about one thing or another, and I finally summarized my feelings: “I am just not happy.”
Annelise was a very gentle and kind person, and a wonderful host. Maybe I was looking for sympathy, but I sure didn’t get any that afternoon, and her response caught me completely by surprise. When I told her that I wasn’t happy, she turned to me and said, “That doesn’t matter. Happiness will come and go. Your job is to do your music.”
Of course, she was right. She could have said to me, “Oh, you are not happy? Well grow up; what do you think this is?”
Annelise knew a good deal about struggle and unhappiness. Many years earlier, she had lost her husband, and she was left as a young widow to raise her three children by herself.
Several years later, her older son became incapacitated by a psychological illness, but it was her younger son who shortly thereafter died of a brain tumor.
Through it all, Annelise never lost her faith. She stood up to the terrible things that life threw at her, and through the inner strength that she demonstrated to me, she became the archetype of the person I wanted to become. I left Denmark a better person.
More than a decade later I found myself in that precarious and often protracted period between graduate school and a steady job. Having exhausted our funds at the University of Kentucky, my family and I returned to New Jersey, where I had lived before, and where I knew I could make a go of it once again.
We returned to New Jersey with few possessions or resources. We had found a lovely, small apartment just right for us, but paying the first month’s rent would be a problem. I met with the landlady and explained to her that we had just arrived in town and we would need a little time to get things in order. I told her that we didn’t have the first month’s rent, but that we would pay the back rent and everything else we owed her as soon as possible. She responded, “That would be OK, just pay me when you can.” How lucky. I was stunned. I was almost speechless, and could think of little else to say, but “Thanks, Mom.”
I decided I would teach piano, and set about putting out ads. I called the editor of a local newspaper. I told him what I needed and he asked me about myself. As it turned out, he was a pianist as well. I asked him who he had studied with. He told me, “Erwin Buchner.” “Oh my goodness,” I said, “Mr. Buchner was my teacher.”
We had a good conversation about Mr. Buchner’s teaching, and I finally the question I had danced around for some time: “Is Mr. Buchner still alive?” “Not only is he still alive and in his mid-80s,” said the editor, “but he is still traveling home to home and teaching.” I was thrilled to hear that, and I resolved to call him right away.
I did call Mr. Buchner that very day, and said gingerly, “Mr. Buchner, I don’t know if you remember me, this is Bob Chabora.” He responded with the vitality I had always seen in him: “Why of course, I remember you; it is good to hear from you!” And the next seven words that came out of his mouth were words I really needed to hear. He said this: “Isn’t this a noble profession we’re in?”
My mind raced: “ Noble? I have no job, no money, I can hardly pay my rent or contribute to the well-being of my family, and my self esteem is at an all time low.” Noble, you ask; I finally answered him: “Yes it is, and there is nothing else I’d rather do.”
We then launched into a discussion of music and of ideas I hadn’t thought about for far too long. Music, which has sustained him throughout his long and productive life, would once again sustain me.
Erwin Buchner reminded me of the blessing of work and of the need to persevere.
Just a few days later my family and I were dispatching local errands when we drove through a turn of the century ethnic neighborhood where my Uncle Charlie lived. He was a life long bachelor, and vigorous still in his late eighties.
My instinct was to stop and say hello, and introduce him to my wife and son, but I hesitated at the thought of the conversation that would take place. He would want to know how things were going, and what I was doing, and I fretted over what little I had to tell him.
I almost passed by his house when I caught myself, and thought, “What on earth am I doing? Of course I will stop; he is my uncle.”
I pulled up to the house, parked, and knocked. As I waited for him to come to the door, I rehearsed the conversation that I knew would take place. He opened the door and after a brief greeting, we walked to the car. It took just long enough for me to lament my sad state of affairs one last time.
When we got to the car he looked in, greeted my wife and son warmly, and then turned to me with the most beaming of smiles and said, “Bob, your are a rich man.”
A rich man in a noble profession! How could I have been so blind? I had underestmated Uncle Charlie by far. He never asked me about my income, about a fancy home, a portfolio of investments, position or title, but instead spoke just five words that freed me from the unbearable burden I had imagined was on my shoulders.
Four times in my adult life, when I was much in need of advice, I had the good fortune to be in the presence of individuals older and wiser than I:
From Knud Voss: I learned that I would need to become my own
Annelise: showed me what true faith looks like
Erwin Buchner: reminded me of the blessing of work and of the
need to persevere
Uncle Charlie taught me to treasure the gifts I had
Wherever you hang a pendulum, a new center of the universe is created. If someone handed me a pendulum, and told me to fix it to that which mattered most, I would suspend it from the confluence of those four moments in my life.
Where will you hang yours?