Pendulum Pit is a Gift
for Learning and Singing
On Friday afternoons, Mellon Hall dwellers – mostly staff and tutors – cherish the sound of choral singing that emanates from the lobby near the Pendulum Pit. The curious mechanism that hangs in one of the stairwells nearby is a familiar sight to Annapolis Johnnies. The nearly 300-pound pendulum and the space it occupies, affectionately known as the Pendulum Pit, is like a member of the college community. The fact, too, that only a handful of other institutions have a pendulum makes it even more special that Johnnies have one to call their own.
For most of its existence, the Pendulum was inoperable. That changed, however, when the class of 2011 approached Annapolis tutor James Beall to donate funds from their Senior Class Gift to pay for the restoration of the Pendulum, a gesture that complemented the previous year’s class gift of a new projector for the McKeldin Planetarium. The Colorado School of Mines gave Beall the design for the Pendulum, which he describes as “very contemplative . . . the motion of a whole swing is 7.1 seconds.”
With support from students, whose help included soldering electrical connections and putting together circuitry, Beall embarked on the Pendulum Project. “The students had a fun time getting the electronics running and understanding the Pendulum’s inner workings,” says Beall, a physicist who studied astrophysics at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and received his PhD from the University of Maryland.
Today the Pendulum’s mathematical and scientific applications are studied in the Program. Demonstrations of its mechanics are carried out by Junior Lab classes in their study of Newton’s Laws of Motion as well as attempts to replace the Aristotelian efficient cause with Descartes’ quantity of motion, Leibniz's "living force," and other concepts.
The Pendulum has surprising artistic merits, too. Due to the impressive acoustics of the Pendulum Pit, the space is a favorite among musicians and vocalists. The Freshman Chorus and the Primum Mobile quartet gather there on Friday afternoons to belt out well-loved songs such as William Byrd’s Mass for Five Voices, Josquin des Prez’s Missa Pange lingua, and Tomás Luis de Victoria’s Missa O Magnum Mysterium. Recently students have been meeting there on Wednesday afternoons to sing Palestrina’s “Sicut Cervus” for fun. In true Johnnie tradition, this gift will continue to give – and swing – and sing – for generations to come.