Podcast: From Billiards to Bach

Peter Kalkavage on The Virtual Memories Show

Virtual Memories: Peter Kalkavage – From Billiards to Bach

“No one can be deeply affected by this course of study and not want to go beyond it. It gets you excited about ideas, questions and authors. To read one author is to lead you to another.”

hegelshrunkHow does a man go from being a ne’er-do-well in a Pennsylvania mining town to a tutor at St. John’s College? Peter Kalkavage joins the show to talk about his path to that Great Books institution, what he’s learned going into his 38th year as a tutor, how he fell in love with the college’s music program, what his study of Hegel taught him, what he’d add to the St. John’s curriculum, and more! (Also: Iliad or Odyssey, which offsets the question of “Luther or Calvin?”)

“In my time here, the one change that has irked me the most has been the shift from Luther to Calvin in the sophomore seminar. There were understandable problems with Luther . . . on the other hand, he deals in a blunt and powerful way with questions of freedom, secular authority, and faith-vs.-works. Calvin seems too relentlessly negative and too obsessed with the question of predestination.”

We also discuss his upbringing, The Big Lebowski, the teacher who got him to turn himself around, his favorite area to teach, how Dante taught him the possibilities of poetry, the question of whether we’re ever mature enough to read the curriculum, and the recent move to rebrand St. John’s College.

“We have to be very careful not to present ourselves in what we think might be an attractive way which misrepresents what we most have to offer our students, the country and the world: our curriculum. That’s the most important thing. Not our location, not our extracurricular activities, but the program. ‘The following teachers are returning to St. John’s next year. . . .'”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! Related conversations:

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About our Guest

Peter Kalkavage has been a tutor at St. John’s College in Annapolis, Md., since 1977. He is director of the St. John’s Chorus. Dr. Kalkavage is the author of The Logic of Desire: An Introduction to Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, and has produced translations of Plato’s Timaeus and Statesman for Focus Philosophical Library. He is also author of two texts that have been used in the St. John’s music program, On the Measurement of Tones and Elements: A Workbook for Freshman Music.

Credits: This episode’s music is the opening credits to Miller’s Crossing by Carter Burwell. The conversation was recorded in Peter Kalkavage’s office during the St. John’s College 2014 Piraeus seminar on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The intro and outro were recorded on Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Peter Kalkavage by me.

Podcast: Here at the Western World

Virtual Memories – season 2 episode 7
Tom May – Here at the Western World (The Piraeus Tapes II)

Back-to-back episodes of The Virtual Memories Show! Who’d a’ thunk it?

Around Memorial Day, I took a little vacation to my alma mater, St. John’s College, for a seminar on Flannery O’Connor, and got to interview two of my favorite tutors: David Townsend and Tom May. Because they both had so much to talk about, I decided to split this month’s show into two parts.

St. John's College, Annapolis, MD

This episode contains my conversation with Tom May, the first St. John’s tutor I ever met (that’s him, conducting the freshmen chorus, above). I find Mr. May — sorry, but I can’t get over those Johnnie traditions — fascinating and intensely thoughtful, and I was glad to learn some of his history, how he’s seen the college change during his three decades-plus as a tutor, how we should never read a book for the first time, and and he had to get a note from his priest to read books from the Vatican’s Index Librorum Prohibitorum.

It all makes sense here:

Check out the previous episode, in which tutor David Townsend talks about education and the American project. There are also episodes with tutors Peter Kalkavage (2014) and Eva Brann (2013)!

Follow The Virtual Memories Show on iTunes, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

If you’re interested in seeing some of Annapolis, check out my photoset from that trip:

St. John's College

Credits: This episode’s music is Steely Dan’s Here at the Western World. I recorded the intro on a Blue Yeti mic, and the conversation with was recorded on a pair of Blue Encore 100 mics, feeding into a Zoom H4N recorder. (Also, there’s a Flannery O’Connor pun that I won’t bother to explain.)

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