From the Readers
An alumna recalls the "extraordinarily enriching experience" of her lessons with music professor emeritur Richard Grayson
Richard Grayson’s Gift
I believe that it was more than coincidence that allowed me to find a Richard Grayson concert flyer on the ground near Thorne Hall when I first toured the Oxy campus. When I read “Classical Improvisation” on the program, I thought, “How novel, I’ve got to take lessons with this person.” If I had known how astonishing his genius was, I think I would have been too intimidated to call him to inquire about lessons; but I did, and my ignorance permitted bliss as I embarked on a stimulating study of piano improvisation with a patient mastermind.
When I walked into Richard’s campus studio for my first lesson, he made no attempt to excuse the conspicuous musical toys strewn over and around his piano and desk. So, after the lesson I asked why they were there and he explained that they would be featured during his upcoming concert as part of an original work. Then he playfully demonstrated counterpoint on the inflatable piano and shook the big “Happy Apple” in my face, jingling its inner bell.
At my first Grayson concert, I was amused as those toys made their debut during the second part of the concert, which also included electronic compositions. It was during the first half that I was stunned as Richard improvised piano works based on tunes suggested by the audience in styles of classical composers—even a fugue! I was pleasantly amazed but, as his student, I was also daunted by this revelation of his towering aptitude and imagination. Nonetheless, as I continued my lessons with Professor Grayson, he was always patient, inspiring, and genuinely pleased to witness creative growth.
Richard suggested that I start improvising at the ballet studio where I played piano, and I vividly remember the swim-or-sink feeling of my first improvisation; I had no choice but to keep the beat going for the dancers, who seemed oblivious to the blandness of my piece. He would always remind me that that the art of improvisation is a slow, muscle-building process. With practice, my dance pieces eventually began to sound more like music.
After graduating from Oxy, I continued to take composition and improvisation lessons with Richard sporadically through the years, and then lost touch. Nevertheless, I continued to think of him often and missed the joy of studying with him. It was with a deep sense of loss and sadness that I read about his passing in the magazine (“Maestro of Mashups,” Summer).
Sometimes we are granted larger-than-life opportunities; my lessons with Richard were such extraordinarily enriching experiences that I like to believe that the Grayson flyer I discovered on the ground by Thorne Hall 30-plus years ago landed and remained there in plain sight not by chance, but by a grace as divine as Richard’s gift.
Robin Nixon ’82
Science, Shtulman, and Scripture
It is always interesting to receive Occidental magazine. I was struck by several letters in the Summer issue, most notably Kathy Whitney Barr M’78’s reaction (“Blinded by Science”) to associate professor of psychology Andrew Shtulman’s forthcoming book. “Catholics believe that God created the universe,” she wrote—and I would suggest that all Christianity subscribes to this thesis. Nevertheless, it is enlightening to see that a number of scientists, who happen to have been Christian, have made honorable contributions to the sciences, both natural and physical.
I would suggest that, while Jean-Baptiste Lamarck came up with the theory of inheriting acquired characteristics, we can agree that it is evolutionary in a certain sense, but not in the sense Darwin meant. In fact, Darwin admitted later in life that he really came up with all of his evolutionary notions mainly to upset his wife, a strong Christian, with whom he was having a spat at the time. In any event his evolutionary theory doesn’t seem to work, when it is traced down to somewhere in the vicinity of 8,000 to 10,000 B.C., where there seems to be a definite break. So we can check that one off as a dead end.
Along with this we might consider that our planet belongs to a certain section of the Milky Way, an established fact. Our position in the Milky Way is such that, if we were closer in, the heavy metals would not form as they have, since we must have sufficient density for this to occur and being closer to the center of the Milky Way, we would lose that. On the other hand, if the Earth were a little further out, then the atmospheric gases we need to breathe would not form either, for the reverse reason. Has anyone thought about just how propitious this is in the creation of our planet and all of its life? Along with this let us acknowledge that the Hubble constant is somewhat larger than Hubble first theorized.
What does this do for Christianity’s foundation document, the Bible? In the case of Genesis it simply ratifies it, since the Creation, as described there, is in the order in which it would normally be done according to our scientific understanding. So, if Genesis is aligned with what we know scientifically to be correct, then can Christianity really be criticized on any scientific grounds? It doesn’t look like it. After a lifetime studying the known universe and its trajectories, astronomer and mathematician Sir Fred Hoyle (1915-2001) finally said that he was convinced that, since these trajectories were so precise and predictable, the universe could only have been created by an intelligence far beyond our comprehension. And he would have to call this high intelligence God—quite an admission from a longtime atheist and one of the finest minds of the 20th century.
It is rather reminiscent of Sir William Ramsay (1851-1939), another well-known atheist, who spent 25 years in Israel for the deliberate purpose of disproving the Acts of the Apostles and therefore the Bible itself. Near the very end of his excavations, Sir William had to admit that the Scriptures were extremely accurate, sometimes down to within a few feet, especially considering that St. Luke wrote this particular book nearly 1,900 years earlier. He had the integrity to stand up and say at that point that his archeological findings showed the written record to be true and that he, Sir William Ramsay, would have to believe it and therefore would become a Christian—another startling admission from one representing a famous atheistic family in England and certainly a real body blow to the English aristocracy of that time.
In light of the foregoing facts, I would suggest that Kathy Barr’s thesis is correct.
George E. Klump ’57
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