Santa Fe collaboration equates math with music

Cris Moore

SANTA FE, N.M. — The entire country may soon be able to hear from two Santa Fe organizations about why math may be behind the love of music.

“The Majesty of Music & Mathematics,” originally performed in November 2013, was part of an ongoing series with the Santa Fe Symphony and the Santa Fe Institute, the renowned multi-disciplinary think tank headquartered in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains foothills. The groups have teamed up with New Mexico PBS to tape a condensed and altered version of the original show.

The Lensic Performing Arts Center will host the filming June 19 and it will be open to the public. The $5 tickets have sold out.

In addition to the symphony’s performance, the PBS special will also cut to various mathematics demonstrations using musical instruments to better explain the music/math connections, something that was originally part of the on-stage show, but will be moved to a studio for the PBS special.

“We hope the audience finds enthusiasm to see how the production is created,” said Gregory Heltman, the symphony’s founder and executive director. “This is very unique. To my knowledge, no other organization in Santa Fe has done a performance like this.”

Heltman teamed up with Santa Fe Institute professor and mathematician Cris Moore – a former Santa Fe City Councilor – to create the original show.

Moore said that out of the various performances the two groups put together for their “Voyages” series, “The Majesty of Music & Mathematics” made the most sense to televise because its demonstrations make it interesting and interactive. He hopes it shows a larger audience the often “hidden” side of math and how it connects to things we love, like music, on both practical and emotional levels.

“Why do we find so much joy in music? Why does it grab our brains? It has to do with the fact that our brain loves pattern, rhythms we can tap our feet to, melodies that return to the original notes, or that amen that you get at the end of the hymn – the grand finale,” said Moore. “It’s satisfying because our brains sense our pattern is being completed. But we also love surprise, or being thrown off a bit. When music changes suddenly and the pattern changes, then we have to catch up.”

This fall, when the show has been edited and produced, New Mexico PBS will begin the process of sending it to distributors nationwide in an effort to get it shown in other cities and states, said general manager Franz Joachim. He said the groups have been working together for more than two years.

“I’m excited we found this home-grown thing with local relevance and national relevance,” Joachim said.

Live viewers should expect an experience far from that of a concert, said Heltman. Performances will be started and stopped, likely repeated and audience members may be moved around for filming purposes. The special will premiere on New Mexico PBS in 2018.

In addition to demonstrations showing how musical elements like chords and octaves derive from simple mathematics equations, “The Majesty of Music & Mathematics” uses classical pieces by Bach, as well as popular movie themes like those from “Harry Potter” and “Mission Impossible.”

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