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Organizing Fellow: Lâle Burk, Chemistry

Music and Science: From The Creation to The OriginSergei Rachmaninoff's first concert in the United States took place at Smith College in November of 1909. More than three decades later, Sophie Satin, Rachmaninoff's cousin and the sister of his wife, was at Smith College conducting research in collaboration with geneticist Albert Blakeslee in the Smith College Botanic Garden. Like the botanist-musicologist Ludwig Ritter von Köchel, who catalogued Mozart's works, Sophie Satin was also a scientist, a botanist who, during the last years of her own career, made significant contributions to music by organizing, editing and translating Rachmaninoff’s papers.

As part of the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Rachmaninoff concert, this short-term Kahn project will address the relationships between music and the sciences, going beyond the realm of scientist-musicians to address a broader inquiry into the impacts of science and technology on music, and conversely, the impacts of music on the sciences.

How have the sciences and technology impacted music? Profoundly, when we consider the advances in broadcasting and recording that have made music of all types widely accessible to the public. Advances in electronic and computer technologies have introduced a myriad of possibilities. Live performances can now be edited for recording and made "perfect”. Librettos of operas can be read from one’s seat in the concert hall in a language of one’s choice. Scientific developments may be the subject of compositions, as in the opera Dr. Atomic by John Adams, which is based on the building of the atom bomb used in Hiroshima, and in Richard Einhorn's opera/oratorio The Origin, which is based on the life and work of Charles Darwin.

But what then is the impact of music on science? The physical basis of sound and the ways we hear it are now reasonably well understood. Psychologists currently study how we respond to music and our ability to learn and memorize musical scores. Music plays an increasing role in medicine as a part of music therapies. Neuroscientists currently ask questions pertaining to music and the brain and can now even monitor the brain while musicians compose and perform music.

The specific questions we will address in this short-term project will depend of course on the interests of the participants. We are fortunate to have the composer Richard Einhorn as the guest speaker and contributor to the project. Mr. Einhorn's works include, in addition to the recently premiered The Origin, the opera Voices of Light, numerous works for orchestra, chamber music, song cycles, as well as scores for dance and film. His expertise in current technologies in the creation and production of music will greatly enhance our discussions. We will begin the project some time Friday afternoon and continue through late afternoon Saturday. In the introductory session on Friday, participants will share their particular interests. On Friday evening, Richard Einhorn will give a presentation that will provide the main focus for our discussions on Saturday.

We hope this interdisciplinary project will be of interest not only to scientists and musicians but to colleagues across all disciplines here at the College.

Project Fellows:

  • Lale Burk, Chemistry, Organizing Fellow
  • Peter Bloom, Music
  • John Burk, Biological Sciences
  • Gregory Brown, Music
  • Richard Einhorn, Composer (Visiting Expert)
  • Christophe Gole, Mathematics & Statistics
  • Judith Gordon, Music
  • Jeffereson Hunter, English Language & Literature
  • Clifton J. Noble, Jr., Music
  • Katherine Schneider, Art
  • Tanya Schneider, Chemistry
  • Laura Sizer, Philosophy (Hampshire College)
  • Ronald Perera, Music
  • Dominique Thiebaut, Computer Science
  • Hans Vaget, German Studies & Comparative Literature
  • Michael Vargas, Dance
  • William Wittig, Music

Project Schedule:

Friday, October 30:

  • 1:30-4:00 pm: Introductions & Preliminary Discussion (Campus Center 204)
  • 4:30 pm: Lecture by Richard Einhorn (Neilson Browsing Room)
  • 6:30-7:30 pm: Dinner (Kahn Institute)
  • 8:00 pm: Menahem Pressler Concert (Sweeney Concert Hall)

Saturday, October 31:

  • 9am: Continental Breakfast (Kahn Institute)
  • 9:00-Noon: Colloquium Discussion (Kahn Institute)
  • Noon: Lunch (Kahn Institute)
  • 1:00-5:00 pm: Discussion (Kahn Institute)


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