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Martin Berkofsky
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Saturday, 20 October 2007
Astronomy-the best piano lesson

It was often, after our rehearsals, that Alan Hovhaness, Larry Sobol, and I would walk the late-night, less-than-prim streets of New York. Larry and I would listen with reverence as Alan told of the wisdom of Francis Bacon, or would humourously remark about an overly-liquified gentleman whose sprawled corpus was blocking the path, "looks like Gottschalk."

One late night,  the topic suddenly changed from our usual menu.  Alan pointed to the sky which bravely emerged through the neon haze.  "You should study astronomy."  I wasn't ready for this particular tutorial and replied with a simple "What do you mean?"

The answer was quite to the point.  "If you want to be a great musician, a great artist, you must first study astronomy to understand the vastness of all creation.  You will realise your own insignificance and then will achieve true humility."

 

It was the best piano lesson I had ever gotten. 


Posted by cristoforifund at 1:32 PM EDT
Updated: Sunday, 21 October 2007 12:13 AM EDT
Post Comment | View Comments (2) | Permalink

Saturday, 20 October 2007 - 9:39 PM EDT

Name: "kristin merritt"

martin,

i find this posting to be a wonderful lesson...and not only for yourself.  we must all be reminded not only of the vastness of the creation we inhabit, but also that we ourselves are only a tiny inconsequential part of that universe. however, most people affect the life of another or others in a way that is as vast as the universe we ponder.  i believe you are such a person...and i count myself blessed to have not only had audience to your immense talent, but to call you a friend.

Monday, 22 October 2007 - 7:35 PM EDT

Name: cristoforifund
Home Page: http://cristoforifund.tripod.com

Just received from a colleague wishing anonymity, an excerpt of the "Pensees" by the French philosopher Blaise Pascal..."to keep company to Hovhaness' thoughts about the Universe"...


"Let man then contemplate the whole of nature in her full and grand majesty, and turn his vision from the low objects which surround him. Let him gaze on that brilliant light, set like an eternal lamp to illumine the universe; let the earth appear to him a point in comparison with the vast circle described by the sun; and let him wonder at the fact that this vast circle is itself but a very fine point in comparison with that described by the stars in their revolution round the firmament. But if our view be arrested there, let our imagination pass beyond; it will sooner exhaust the power of conception than nature that of supplying material for conception. The whole visible world is only an imperceptible atom in the ample bosom of nature. No idea approaches it. We may enlarge our conceptions beyond an imaginable space; we only produce atoms in comparison with the reality of things. It is an infinite sphere, the centre of which is everywhere, the circumference nowhere. In short, it is the greatest sensible mark of the almighty power of God that imagination loses itself in that thought.
Returning to himself, let man consider what he is in comparison with all existence; let him regard himself as lost in this remote corner of nature; and from the little cell in which he finds himself lodged, I mean the universe, let him estimate at their true value the earth, kingdoms, cities, and himself. What is a man in the Infinite?

But to show him another prodigy equally astonishing, let him examine the most delicate things he knows. Let a mite be given him, with its minute body and parts incomparably more minute, limbs with their joints, veins in the limbs, blood in the veins, humours in the blood, drops in the humours, vapours in the drops. Dividing these last things again, let him exhaust his powers of conception, and let the last object at which he can arrive be now that of our discourse. Perhaps he will think that here is the smallest point in nature. I will let him see therein a new abyss. I will paint for him not only the visible universe, but all that he can conceive of nature's immensity in the womb of this abridged atom. Let him see therein an infinity of universes, each of which has its firmament, its planets, its earth, in the same proportion as in the visible world; in each earth animals, and in the last mites, in which he will find again all that the first had, finding still in these others the same thing without end and without cessation. Let him lose himself in wonders as amazing in their littleness as the others in their vastness. For who will not be astounded at the fact that our body, which a little while ago was imperceptible in the universe, itself imperceptible in the bosom of the whole, is now a colossus, a world, or rather a whole, in respect of the nothingness which we cannot reach? He who regards himself in this light will be afraid of himself, and observing himself sustained in the body given him by nature between those two abysses of the Infinite and Nothing, will tremble at the sight of these marvels; and I think that, as his curiosity changes into admiration, he will be more disposed to contemplate them in silence than to examine them with presumption.

For, in fact, what is man in nature? A Nothing in comparison with the Infinite, an All in comparison with the Nothing, a mean between nothing and everything. Since he is infinitely removed from comprehending the extremes, the end of things and their beginning are hopelessly hidden from him in an impenetrable secret; he is equally incapable of seeing the Nothing from which he was made, and the Infinite in which he is swallowed up."

Blaise Pascal - Pensees (Thoughts) 

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