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Click here to read about RF CafeKirt Blattenberger

Carpe Diem!
(Seize the Day!)

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Music to the Ears of an Engineer
We technically oriented types often think of those with an artsy-fartsy bent as ones who run for the tall grass when topics of science and/or mathematics arise. Other than engineers, scientists, financiers, etc., I would say in most cases it is justified - but not always. In the September 2013 edition of Strings magazine, an article titled, "How the Violin Altered Our View of the Universe*" appeared where author Paul Stein, a violinist, educator, and member of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, evidenced a very good grasp of science and math principles. The very decision to pen such an article had to have been born of a knowledge and comfort with the aforementioned. A subtitle of, "Physicist & violinist Albert Einstein's cosmic orchestra resonates with the music of the spheres," proves familiarity of Isaac Newton's "Music of the Spheres," (Musica Universalis) Einstein's competence with a violin, and the concept of resonance. Just because a musician can use the word 'resonance' in a sentence does not necessarily mean he/she can tell you what it really means (trust me, I know).

Einstein Playing His Violin (NPR image) - RF CafeIt is true that Mr. Stein's vocation as an educator increases the likelihood that he understands the scientific and mathematical underpinnings of musical instrument design and the elegance of music theory. I watched about 8 hours of music theory (DVD instruction set) from a Ph.D. professor at a leading conservatory, where he significantly challenged my own understanding of harmonics and resonance, scales, tempo, and many other technical realms. If you are a musician, do you really understand the Circle of Fifths and why using it for, among other things, transposing the key of a music piece actually works? When the light bulb turned on for me, I felt as gratified as when I learned how to calculate the escape velocity of a massive body in physics class. Even so, my understanding is still woefully below that of an accomplished classically trained musician.

Stein recounts some of Einstein's exchanges with noted contemporaries like composer and playright Rabindranath Tagore (I hadn't heard of him, either) regarding the correlation of music, physics, and philosophy. What piqued my interest in Stein's usage of math was a paragraph where he chose to use the concept of an argument with three unknown quantities requiring three equations (lines of thought in this case) in order to be solved. References to relativity are scattered throughout as well. You can read the article here if you are interested*.

On a related note (pun intended), Phil Libin, co-founder and CEO of Evernote software company, wrote an article titled, "And Suddenly, a Symphony of Creativity Is Unleashed," in Inc magazine relating how his beginning to learn to play the piano at age 41 has altered his awareness of the parallel factors of musical structure and concepts on everyday activities. It's a quick read of one page.

While you're there, try, "The West Point Way," to read a surprising report on how author Bo Burlingham  discovered that despite an unimaginable level of constant stress during four years of military discipline and rigorous college studies, the Cadets are far and above happier and more positive than any he has encountered on civilian campuses.

No, I am not a musician.

* This is not available on the Strings website, but can be viewed here by signing up for a 7-day free trial. Caveat: I have not used this service and cannot vouch for its integrity.

Posted  October 8, 2013

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