Here is my latest Kirt's Cogitation. Please add your comments.
Science in Music
If you are not in
the habit of listening closely to the words of songs, you could easily miss the the
fact that many make passing mention of topics on science and mathematics, while others
integrate it as the primary theme. There are a lot of songs written and produced by
people whose primary vocation is in the sciences; their songs are a secondary "hobby"
type of endeavor - often with a touch of humor. Other songs are created by mainstream
popular groups and happen to integrate themes of science, mathematics, engineering,
One of the earliest examples I can recall noticing was produced by the Moody
Blues - "The Word." At the time, I did not fully appreciate the profoundness of the
lyrics in terms of how they described the electromagnetic spectrum in its entirety,
but an examination of the lyrics (below) reveals the profundity of the words.
Now, I realize that the writer might have unintentionally stumbled upon this reality
with a little help from an illicit drug, particularly given some of the content (like
"the word," which is, as it turns out, "om" - also spelled aum). Nevertheless, he deserves
credit for having arrived at the theme.
Here are the lyrics (copyrights acknowledged
for all):This garden universe vibrates complete.
Some we get a sound so sweet.
Vibrations reach on up to become light,
thru gamma, out of sight.
Between the eyes and ears there lay,
The sounds of color
and the light of a sigh.
And to hear the sun, what a thing to believe.
all around if we could but perceive.
To know ultra-violet, infra-red and x-rays,
Beauty to find in so many ways.
Two notes of the chord, that's our fluoroscope.
But to reach the chord is our life's hope.
And to name the chord is important to
So they give a word, and the word is om.
Another song that comes
to mind is "Spirit," by John Denver. As a life-long amateur astronomer, I have to admit
to nearly getting emotional when listening to the words (real men don't get "emotional,"
though). Anyone who has sat for hours under a crystal clear, star-filled sky, peering
through binoculars or a telescope, can relate (well, real men don't "relate" either).
John Denver was a committed naturalist who was an accomplished astronomer and pilot
(up until the point he killed himself in a homebuilt airplane, that is).
His spirit joined and so was formed
Between the swan and Hercules
Where even dark clouds glow
with grace, to ride the swell
To yet be strong of will
To love the wind, to learn
And empty space to fill
Apollo taught me to rhyme
me to play
Andromeda cast down her sign
And Vega lights my way
in a galaxy
An endless flight through time
Lyra gave her harp to him
him free to climb
A winters journey from the moon
To reach the summer sun
To rise again, to sing for you
A song that's yet unsung
If you have a subscription to a music service such as Yahoo! Music Jukebox, I invite
you to look up these songs and play them.
Some artists set out specifically to
write songs with science themes. Martin Rowe, a name very familiar to readers of Test &
Measurement magazine, has written and produced a handful of test engineering related
songs in the last few years, including "Electrical Heroes," "The Measurement Blues,"
and "The Lab in the Corner." Rumor has it he is up for a Grammy Award (originally called
the Gramophone Awards) in the Best New Engineering Song category as well as the Best
New Male Engineer Vocalist category. OK, I just started that rumor.
was dissed and demoted to non-planet status a couple years ago, radio host and comedian
Dave Ross' song entitled, "Ex-Planet #9" became very popular, and was played often on
radio shows (I even linked to it back then).
Such talent is seemingly endless.
Greg Crowther, a Research Scientist in the Division of Allergy & Infectious Diseases
the University of Washington, is not satisfied with peering all day through a microscope
at nasty body infecting bugs. He has compiled quite a repertoire of science related
songs like "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Chemists," "I Love The Lab," and
"The Ballad Of Roy G. Biv." FYI, Roy G. Biv is one of the mnemonics that non-engineers
to recall the color spectrum, akin to the resistor color code mnemonics we use - ashamedly,
the one I was taught way back in high school electrical class - by the teacher - was
Bad Boys Rape Our Young Girls, But Violet Gives Willingly (the i in Biv is for Indigo).
But then I digress.
Other professors and teachers, like Dr. Alan Marscher of
Boston College's astronomy and astrophysics department, have written and performed songs
specifically for their students, as a way to motivate the class. "Relatively Wierd"
is about - you guessed it - relativity. "The Fall of Ancient Science" tells of the uprooting
of ancient beliefs based on new scientific evidence.
In my Chemistry I college
class, I distinctly recall my professor standing in front of that class and shamelessly
singing out, "Oh my gracious, goodness me, PV equals nRT," (to the tune of the Nestle's
chocolate ditty) as a way to remember the Ideal Gas Law. Obviously, it worked. I shall
not sing it for you.
The Chromatics, as the name might suggest, is a group that
produces many science themed songs. "Doppler Shifting," "Sun Song - 'The sun is a big
ball of gas, and it's 99% of the solar system mass...'," and "Habitable Zone" are A
Cappella renditions. Sky & Telescope magazine says: "An astronomy class set to music."
Here is a song entitled, "Maxwell's
." In it, singer Steve Kalafut sets new words to the tune of "Maxwell's
Silver Hammer," which was originally performed by The Beatles. Some of the lyrics:
B-field density magnetic propensity
stands with Gauss
Faraday the law of induction, oh-oh-oh-oh
Then there's Ampere's
law, now my nerves are getting raw
All these I must learn (These things you must
A good grade I must earn for my mind to grow-oh-oh-oh
And if I ever figure
It will not be too soon
If you have never heard Tom
Lehrer's famous "Elements Song" - and even if you have - you will want to click on the
icon to the left to see the excellent video rendition. Lyrics are by Tom Lehrer, with
music by Sir Arthur Sullivan, put in video format by Mike Stanfill. Amazon sells a CD
set of science songs by Mr. Lehrer.
"Energy Eigenstates," by Walter F. Smith,
is sort of an ode to wave functions.Take a
wavefunction, any wavefunction –
You can synthesize it out of energy eigenstates!
Why, might you ask, should I do this task?
Relax, and I will sing to you of energy
No thinking hard! Let down your guard!
Once I have sang of it,
you’ll get the hang of it!
Stop feeling queasy – it’s really easy.
you all about their traits!
…My favorite functions, energy eigenstates!
A Google Search will turn up hundreds - maybe thousands - of examples for your
entertainment delight. In fact, just clicking on many of the links in this cogitation
will give you the top level domains of sites that have other songs posted. Here is just
one webpage that lists about 250 titles -
(Math And Science Song Information, Viewable Everywhere).
can integrate one of the songs into the introduction of your next presentation. That
will set the mood better than any lame joke that you might try to pull off
Do you have other examples of
science themes in music? Please post your comments on this forum.