Emmanuel Professors Collaborate in “Mathematics of the Senses and Music of Reason” Lecture
November 09, 2009
In the second installment of the yearlong, four-part lecture series entitled "Making Meaningful Connections: Interdisciplinary Discussions by Emmanuel Faculty," Assistant Professor of Performing Arts Tom Schnauber and Special Instructor of Mathematics Tim Lewandowski presented "Mathematics of the Senses and Music of Reason," on November 4th in the Janet M. Daley Library Lecture Hall. The series theme was inspired by Academic Convocation speaker Jonah Lehrer's discussion of interdisciplinary learning. Each lecture features two faculty members, paired across arts and sciences backgrounds, who are challenged to consider how their specific research and scholarly interests have been or could be influenced by the contrasting discipline.
Schnauber, an internationally accomplished composer, began the lecture with a short, humorous video clip noting the similarities in many songs that use the same notes as the well-known Pachelbel's Canon. He shared the video in order to point out that while the chords may be the same in many songs, there are worlds of differences in music involving the emotion behind it. He also noted that while the technical aspects of music can be measured numerically, such as the tempo, meter, scale degree and note type, the connection between math and music is simply superficial.
"While the numbers are there, numbers galore, there are no formulas, proofs, or operations," he said. "They are purely representative."
Lewandowski, who is also a musician himself when not crunching numbers, explained that while both music and math can be considered beautiful and elegant depending on the person experiencing it, the similarities are lacking. He stated that a mathematical proof that is short and concise yet conveys a larger issue, such as the Pythagorean Theorem, is considered beautiful and elegant to a mathematician.
He continued his lecture by arguing the belief that mathematical patterns such as the Fibonacci Numbers, the diatonic scale and the chromatic scale are strongly related to numeric patterns used in music. He believes that these similarities are forced by human being's innate desire to form connections and patterns.
"Musicians think of mathematics more as numerology," said Lewandowski. "The fact that there are similar patterns in math and music does not mean there is any deeper connections. There is a distinct difference in how each discipline uses patterns."
While the presenters did not emphasize an overwhelming connection between the two disciplines, they concluded the lecture with a question and answer session where audience members were able to find some agreeable links between mathematics and music.
The next installment of the "Making Meaningful Connections" lecture series is titled "Bone Marrow to Brain Cells: A Scientific and Ethical Journey" by Assistant Professor of Biology Josef Kurtz and Director of Values-Based Education and Professor of Philosophy Raymond Deveterre on February 10th.