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Johnian magazine issue 50, spring 2023

Top stories

3 min read

Christopher Gray appointed as new Director of Music

Christopher Gray, who is currently the Director of Music at Truro Cathedral, has been appointed as the new Director of Music at St John’s College. Gray will succeed Andrew Nethsinga who left the College to become Organist and Master of Choristers at Westminster Abbey in January 2023. The Choir is currently conducted by Interim Director of Music, Dr Stephen Darlington.

Christopher Gray. Photography: Chris Yacoubian

Gray will take up the post in April 2023. Gray became Assistant Organist at St George’s Parish Church, Belfast after his early musical education in his hometown of Bangor, Northern Ireland. At the age of 18 he took up the organ scholarship at Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he read Music. Gray will be the second Pembroke College graduate to be Director of Music at St John’s College. Robin Orr was the first, taking up post at St John’s in 1938.

2,500-year-old grammar puzzle solved

While researching his PhD, Dr Rishi Rajpopat (2017) decoded Pānini’s Sanskrit grammar rule which had remained unsolved for 2,500 years.

When you feed in the base and suffix of a word, Pānini’s system should turn them into grammatically correct words and sentences through a step-by-step process. However, often, two or more rules are simultaneously applicable at the same step. Pānini taught a metarule to decide which rule should be applied in the event of ‘rule conflict,’ but for the last 2,500 years scholars have misinterpreted this, often ending up with a grammatically incorrect result.

Page from an 18th-century copy of the Dhātupāṭha of Pāṇini (MS Add.2351) held by Cambridge University Library. Image credit: Cambridge University Library (CC BY-NC 3.0)

Traditionally, scholars have interpreted Pānini’s metarule as meaning: in the event of a conflict between two rules of equal strength, the rule that comes later in the grammar’s serial order wins.

Rajpopat agues instead that Pānini meant that between rules applicable to the left and right sides of a word respectively, Pānini wanted us to choose the rule applicable to the right side. Employing this interpretation, Rajpopat found Pānini’s language machine produced grammatically correct words with almost no exceptions.

New species of tulip discovered in Asia

St John’s postgraduate student Brett Wilson (2013) is a member of the expedition team from Cambridge University Botanic Garden and Fauna & Flora International (FFI) who, together with local tulip experts, discovered a new flower they have named Tulipa toktogulica.

Wilson is project leader of the wild tulip collaboration project, specialising in conservation science and phylogenetics – the study of the evolutionary relationships among biological entities. Some of his work has also now led to the addition for the first time of 53 species of tulip from Central Asia to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Tulipa toktogulica. Photography: Brett Wilson

You can find out more about his discovery on the College website.

St John’s podcast series – Souvient

St John’s College has launched a new podcast series, Souvient, to intrigue, inform and inspire listeners. In each episode Heather Hancock (1984), Master of St John’s, is joined by a notable person from across the St John’s community for lively and thought-provoking conversations about their life and work.

To mark the 40th anniversary of the admission of women as members of St John’s College,
the first guests interviewed on Souvient are pioneering female alumnae of the College.

Listen to the series here or on Apple podcasts.

Honoured alumni

Three Johnians were recognised in King Charles III’s first New Year Honours List 2023.

• Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta (1962) is a Fellow at St John’s and Frank Ramsey Professor Emeritus of Economics, University of Cambridge. He was made Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire (GBE) for services to Economics and to the Natural Environment.
Dr David Halpern (1984), formerly What Works National Adviser, is a Civil Servant and is CEO of The Behavioural Insights Team. He was made Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for Public Service.
Colonel Andrew Geary (2015) is Chief of Staff for the Defence Support Organisation, UK Ministry of Defence. He was made Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in recognition of his time as a Chief of Staff in the Army’s 3rd Division.

Upcoming events

• Meet the Master in San Francisco – Wednesday 10 May 2023, San Francisco
• MA Lunch – Friday 19 May 2023, College
• Larmor Award Dinner – Saturday 15 July 2023, College
• Johnian Society Golf Meeting – Thursday 24 July 2023 and Friday 28 July 2023, John O’Gaunt Golf Club and College
• Johnian Society Centenary Weekend – From Friday 22 September 2023 to Sunday 24 September 2023, College
• London Christmas Drinks – Tuesday 5 December 2023, London

Visit our events webpages for more information.

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