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Math is Music, Music is Math

Updated: Jul 5, 2018

To kick off the PRISE speaker series we had Professor Noam Elkies come and speak to us about cannons and math. What an incredible first speaker!

The Dudley House lecture hall swarmed with HSURV villagers for the first Distinguished Speakers Series talk, given by the illustrious Professor of Mathematics Noam Elkies, who teaches the famed math course Math 55. At the seat of a grand piano, Elkies gave a talk on the mathematics of canons, pieces of music with similar, staggered parts.

Elkies, a true intellectual and music phenom, first wowed the audience by humming and whistling two parts of a canon simultaneous. He then dove into his talk, intertwining mathematics and musicality with his discussion on canons, alluding to axioms (i.e. if part A sounds good with part B, then part B must sound good with part A) and trivial solutions (i.e. 1 or 0 part canons). He alluded to the allure of canons, which Stravinsky described as the ability to create with constraints. He also described music as a pitch vs. time graph, an elegant description of the interplay between math and music.

Elkies ended the night with a simply magnificent performance of improvisation. Receiving suggestions from the crowd, Elkies produced a beautiful piece based on the melodies from "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning," the theme from Indiana Jones, and the violin solo from "Scheherazade" by Rimsky-Korsakov, which left the audience speechless and amazed.

If any sentiment can describe Elkies performance, it is this: Elkies continues to amaze and inspire us.


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