Music to the Ears of an Engineer
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).
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
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
1996 - 2018
BSEE - KB3UON
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