A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


The Prince Of A Professor & The Man In Birkenstocks
Wednesday, December 24, 2008

My friend Graham Walker and I listened to Johann Sebastian Bach's Cantata BWV 36 at the Chan last night. The first line sung jointly by soprano Suzie LeBlanc, alto Laura Pudwell, tenor Colin Balzer and baritone Sumner Thompson:

Schwingt freudig euch empor zu den erhabnen Sternen (soar joyfully aloft amidst the starry grandeur) made me think of a possibly unlikely meeting between two men who were present. One of them was wearing extremely casual clothing and his trademark socked Birkenstocks, the other, a Kodiak bear of a man with white hair, was sitting two persons away from us. I found this extreme urge to loudly greet him in the following manner (and I did), "Dr Vogt how is your cyclotron?" He looked at me with a smile and said, "It's doing just fine."

The two students sitting between us and Dr Erich Vogt asked me, "What's a cyclotron?" Luckily I was able to answer a vague, "It's a particle accelerator and this man headed UBC's TRIUMF for years." I really wanted to answer stuff like, "He deals with particles called charmed quarks. A cyclotron is a donut-shaped chamber that accelerates electrons, protons and other particles at extremely high speeds. When these speeds reach relativistic speeds (nearing the speed of light) then you have an out-of-phase problem and that is why particle accelerators are now not circular but miles long." For more on the extraordinary Dr. Vogt read below:

Erich and the KAON Factory
Erich Vogt and Kaons: The very political particles that weren't to be Canadian
By Eve Savory CBC News
Last Updated: Monday, May 5, 2008 | 2:27 PM ET

This weekend, three Nobel Prize winners and dozens of other scientists of the first order blew into Vancouver for a physics symposium — and a party.

Forty years ago, TRIUMF, Canada's national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics, was established and that alone is reason for a physicist to celebrate

But that's not what drew Carlo Rubbia, Dick Taylor and Walter Kohn to the gathering at the University of British Columbia (UBC). It was friendship for the man who co-founded TRIUMF — a man who never won a Nobel Prize but who has worked with some 30 winners, and a man celebrated for his commitment both to science and teaching.

Professor Emeritus Erich Vogt has taught 5,000 first-year physics students over the last 43 years.

Vogt is 78, and according to his students, a prince of a professor. Writes one at Ratemyprofessor.com: "This man is AMAZING. He got his PhD in Princeton in the 50s and had lectures of ALBERT EINSTEIN — !! not mentioning his OTHER Nobel Laureate friends!!"

"Incredible prof. about 200 years old and he's been teaching for free since he was 65," enthuses another.

"All other lecturers should sit in on some of his classes to learn how to teach," scolds a third.

For more on this man read the rest of this delightful CBC interview by Eve Savory here

I thought of Dr Vogt and José Verstappen the man in the Birckenstocks. Verstappen has headed Early Music Vancouver for at least 28 years. Such is his perseverance, intelligence and his knowledge not only of what people will like but what people should like that he was able to fill the Chan on the evening of a snow storm. His followers (I am, unabashedly, one of them) trust his taste for music and we attend his concerts(his society hires local musicians and mixes them in groups with musicians from abroad) all beautifully announced by the Early Music Vancouver Calendar that is mailed once a year and that my Rosemary magnets to the fridge. Verstappen could have lost his shirt last night considering that musical director and violinist Marc Destrubé hired the three best natural trumpet playes in North American to contribute for two of the Cantatatas (BMV 171 and BMV 248/6 Part VI). And there was the participation of those baroque oboists Washington McLain and Sand Dalton (not cheap, I am sure!). The band included many of the members of the Pacific Baroque Orchestra including the three-week mother Glenys Webster playing the viola while a violinist friend kept her thirsty Oscar Robin at bay backstage.

Verstappen did not lose his shirt and we all went home satiated with extremely good Bach. Driving home I thought of the musicians hugging each other and congratulating each other after the concert. I felt frustrated. I am not a musician. I can never be part of that club of people who can do that remarkable task of reading music and transfering that knowledge to an innanimate object made of old wood. The handshakes of the musicians are to me like the secret handshakes of a Masonic order. I can never share and can only watch from the outside. I looked at Dr. Vogt during those cantatas and I am sure that the elementary particle man can see into Bach and read into the meaning of the notes. It was plainly evident on his face. Perhaps there is a relationship between music protons and neutrons that Dr. Vogt is able to understand.

From my vantage point as an outsider I can only assert on this Christmas eve that I am lucky, and that indeed we in Vancouver are lucky to have these two men in our midst.

Even with all the snow and the cloudy skies I don't have to be a musician or a particle physicist to soar joyfully aloft amidst the starry grandeur.


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