An Instrumental Gift

Last June, Westmont received 20 new Steinway pianos, making it one of only two four-year liberal arts colleges in California to be an All-Steinway School. Now, friends of the college are raising funds for two world-class violins, a viola, and a cello.

The string quartet will be named after Hubert Schwyzer, professor emeritus of philosophy at UC Santa Barbara, who died last year. Hubert played the cello and was a long-time supporter of chamber music and the arts in the Santa Barbara area.

Schwyzer’s son Hugo says his father discovered meaning and significance in music.

“For Dad, music was the best vehicle he knew for connecting with the divine,” says Hugo. “Music brought him profound joy; he loved playing it, listening to it, talking about it.

“He was an ambassador for chamber music, and I am thrilled, as are my brother, sisters, and extended family, that he will be honored in this way.”

Nona Pyron, Westmont cello instructor who taught Hubert, is leading the campaign to raise the $55,000 needed for the instruments. Meanwhile, world-renowned Santa Barbara violin maker James Wimmer has returned from Germany, where he selected the wood best suited for crafting the instruments. If the funding is in place, the college hopes to have the Hubert Schwyzer Quartet play its first concert early next year.

Last year a generous donor committed $1 million for music scholarships. Michael Shasberger, Adams professor of music and worship, has already been raving about the talent of the incoming class of student musicians.

Speaking of Violins…

Last fall, accomplished violinist Philip Ficsor joined Westmont’s faculty as assistant professor of violin. Ficsor is a member of the American Double, a piano-violin duo that has been featured on concert series throughout the United States and Europe.

The American Double will soon release the first recording of William Bolcom’s complete works for violin and piano. The musicians worked with the Pulitzer Prize winner on each of the compositions, including many first-time releases.

The Community Arts Music Association hosted a performance with Ficsor and the Westmont String Trio in front of hundreds of students at Goleta Valley Junior High School.

Ficsor has also been playing several private recitals throughout Southern California. He is passionate about reviving an age-old tradition of chamber music being performed in actual “chambers.” He says the kaleidoscope of emotions in chamber music is best encountered this way.

“Experiencing professional musicians performing in the intimacy of a drawing room while relaxing in comfortable armchairs surrounded by friends and family offers a musical experience of incomparable beauty and excitement,” he says.

Working Summer Vacations

Five Westmont students have returned to the United States after spending a month serving people in Indonesia in one of four student-led Emmaus Road Trips. Twenty-five students are participating in the summer program, which began about 10 years ago. This month a team left for Uganda after their service project to Nigeria was cancelled due to a surge in criminal activity in the country and extensive travel warnings. Students will also travel to Cambodia and Ukraine to teach English, serve at orphanages and work on other projects. Cross-cultural service projects have a unique and life-changing impact on students that participate.

Susan Penksa, Westmont associate professor of political science, is in Kosovo this month as part of her work as a Fulbright Scholar grantee to Bosnia and Herzegovina. She is conducting research and lecturing in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, through December. She is evaluating the process of post-conflict police restructuring in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo, with a focus on the role of the EU. Her research will include a collaborative study regarding the effectiveness of EU strategies for addressing organized crime in Bosnia and the Balkan region.

During the last 10 years, Penksa, an international security and development consultant, has built an extensive consulting practice with national governments, the European Union, NATO, the United Nations and nongovernmental organizations.

“It is an honor to receive a Fulbright appointment and to represent Westmont and the United States through research, civic and political engagement,” says Penksa. “It will enable me to sharpen my understanding of the best practices for security sector and rule-of-law reforms and provide a unique opportunity to contribute to the community of Bosnia and Herzegovina.”