Letters: November 27, 1996
I read with interest the October 9 On the Campus about the University Orchestra. I was a member of what writer Jeremy Caplan '97 calls that "small, haphazard group" of musicians who made up the orchestra in the years before Michael Pratt's arrival in 1977. Mr. Caplan asserts that, during those dark ages, performance was not a part of Princeton's musical tradition; yet I recall with great fondness many concerts that our orchestra performed in the early 1970s under the baton of Peter Westergaard *56. In the concert I remember best we performed Beethoven's Ninth, the same piece of music that so impressed Mr. Caplan 20 years later. I don't know how our rendition compared in quality to the one he witnessed, but I am happy to report that in 1973 the capacity audience in Alexander Hall responded to our performance with a standing ovation.
Mr. Caplan correctly points out that the University Orchestra of my day did not include many seasoned performers. We were English majors, mathematicians, pre-meds; some members studied music theory and composition, and a few were accomplished pianists or vocalists who played viola or cello in the orchestra just for the fun of it. I, for one, was always grateful for our relatively modest stature, for had the orchestra been any better, a journeyman second violinist like myself would not have been qualified to be a part of it. What a shame that would have been, for we all had a wonderful time rehearsing and performing together. Over the years we became a close-knit group, bound not by grandiose plans for musical careers, but by the shared joy of making music. That performance of Beethoven's Ninth ranks as a high point of my life-an epiphany the likes of which I will probably never experience again.
I do not doubt that today's orchestra, with its bevy of trained performers, far outclasses the orchestra of my day. Yet I can't help wondering about the impact of this renaissance on those musicians who nowadays aren't quite good enough to be a part of the music scene on campus. Is their Princeton experience as rich and fulfilling as mine?
John Kornfeld '75
We congratulate Jeremy Caplan for his excellent article about the University Orchestra and the Certificate Program in Performance. Things certainly have improved in recent years, and we have every reason to believe that they will continue to get better. There are, however, a few clarifications we would like to make.
First, a relatively small percentage of students are forced to look outside the university for private teachers. The Department of Music employs 28 private teachers; 172 students study with them, and the department annually spends about $50,000 to subsidize the cost of lessons for qualified students. Students who want to work with an outside teacher can, if qualified, receive a subsidy for these lessons.
Second, only eight students qualified for the certificate program this year. This was not the result of any budgetary constraint but occurred because the requirement is demanding. There are now a total of 14 students in the program. The program subsidizes the entire cost of their lessons, and so far we have not had to turn away any students because of budget limitations. Should finances become an issue, we will work hard to find funds to support everyone who qualifies. The budget for the performance program has not been cut, but rather increases modestly each year. Our budget has also been able to support master classes, residencies, travel expenses, and various other activities.
Finally, we have done our best to accommodate student practice needs during a transition period. When completed, the renovation and enlargement of the music building will give us more practice and storage space, a beautiful rehearsal room, and basement teaching studios with natural light.
Chairman, Department of Music
Conductor, University Orchestra
"Doing, Learning, Remembering," by Deborah A. Kaple '91 (PAW, October 23) was fascinating. I was dismayed, however, by the discussion of Professor Anne Treisman's work on the "cocktail party problem."
I doubt that I am alone among alumni in being unable to hear conversations at cocktail parties. I have almost no hearing above 3,000 Hertz, whether as a result of my proximity to artillery as an ROTC student, my piloting of small planes, or simply age.
Read my lips, cognitive psychologists: highfrequency sounds attenuate quickly over distance. The highfrequency sounds in the voice of a conversational partner enable people with normal hearing to carry on a conversation in spite of background noise from people farther away, because that noise arrives without the higher pitches and is therefore readily distinguishable from the speech of the conversational partner. Because my hearing is impaired, I cannot hear the higher pitches in the voices of people with whom I am attempting a tete-a-tete, so I cannot distinguish what they are saying from the background buzz.
The attenuation of high frequencies is seen in bats, which use them at short distances for navigation, and perhaps in elephants and whales, which use low frequencies to communicate over long distances.
Jay Parsons '61
I applaud the efforts of Professor of Psychology John B. Jemmott to stem the spread of HIV among urban adolescents. Reading the article summarizing his notable achievements, however, I became aware that as a nation we are relinquishing the function of family as the primary determinant shaping our children's attitudes and behavior. Instead, that primary function is now being assumed, without skepticism or question, by schools and government.
An apparent assumption behind the good work of Mr. Jemmott is that the parents of the adolescents he hopes to influence are without effectiveness in shaping their children's behavior (or maybe he wishes to reverse the behavior these adolescents are learning at home). It seems that government, in the form of the public schools, doesn't trust parents to do the right thing. In certain cases, maybe the government is right. But I am suspicious of government's deciding what behaviorchanging efforts are necessary for particular children. I am also concerned that, because the people within government making such decisions are not elected officials, the public has no voice in the content of this "learning."
Rocky Semmes '79
As a practicing obstetrician/gynecologist and a former professor of English, I was appalled by Julie Rawe '97's redefining of the start of pregnancy as "the implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus" (On the Campus, October 23). There is a clear political agenda in such a redefinition, since one can then reclassify the "Morning-After Pill" as a contraceptive rather than the abortifacient that medical science has always recognized it to be.
If we were to accept this pro-choice Newspeak as gospel, then all ectopic (tubal) pregnancies would cease to exist, since the conceptus in these cases implanted in the fallopian tube and never made it to the uterus. Try telling that to a woman in shock from a ruptured ectopic "non-pregnancy." The sina qua non of a pregnancy is and always will be conception, not implantation.
Rather than trying to hide behind scientific misinformation, Princeton would do better to let the woman herself decide if she wants to take care of the consequences of her actions of the night before by using a safe and effective morning-after abortifacient. Otherwise, pro-choice journalists will next be hailing RU486 as that wonderful "Month-After Pill."
Alan G. Moore '71, M.D.
It is heartening to note that of the seven derogatory letters regarding Bill Clinton's visit published in the September 11 PAW, only two were from members of a class graduating in the last 35 years. If three-quarters of the more recent graduates have adopted a more moderate outlook toward the political scene than those expressed by these writers, it bodes well for the future of the country.
William Tomlinson '50
Congratulations on the President Clinton cover of July 3 which you knew would produce a flood of anti-Clinton letters, which you knew in turn would produce a second flood of pro-Clinton letters-all in all the liveliest several PAWs since the debate of some years ago over Princeton's denying funds to the Boy Scouts. Controversy and confrontation are the lifeblood of the media business, and you folks know your business.
Tom Allsopp '39
Presidents have always used university commencements to deliver public-policy pronouncements. For a university to provide a president with such a platform is neither to endorse the President nor the policy, but to provide a service to the public.
Princeton's invitation to Clinton was entirely proper, although his speech disappointed me because it contained nothing particularly memorable.
I am even more disappointed by the apparent preference of Presidents to choose Harvard rather than Princeton for such purposes.
Duncan C. Kinder '78
St. Clairsville, Ohio
As a parent of a prospective graduate, I thought it insensitive that the university, for security purposes, asked guests to arrive at Commencement three hours early because the President was speaking. We were not the only family with an 86-year-old grandmother in tow. The President's speech sounded like a State of the Union address and lacked the inspirational, thought-provoking words the graduates had earned. I think most attendees would prefer an exercise that put the students and families first on their day. If that means inviting a not-so-famous speaker, so be it.