Like many music educators I‘ve neatly tucked away file drawers full of fascinating articles and reports about music and the diverse impacts it has in our lives and world cultures. The following information was assembled years ago by Malcolm W. Browne in a published article “The Intimate Links Between Music And The Lab.” The page has become faded and it’s impossible to see what the publication or publication date was…..but the information still resonates with the awesome power of music and I paraphrase some of it here for your enjoyment.
Scientists and music lovers celebrated the 100th anniversary of the death of Borodin…the occasion prompting some musing upon the wondrous wiring of the human brain. Technical publications like Chemical & Engineering News reminded readers that it was Borodin who discovered a lab technique for uniting fluorine atoms with carbon atoms, thereby founding an interesting new family of compounds. His discovery helped spawn a host of useful things including Freon and Teflon.
But among non-chemists, Borodin is remembered for achievements that have nothing to do with hair spray, refrigerators or non-stick frying pans. A self-described “Sunday composer” with an extraordinary gift for music, he found time in his short life to compose “Prince Igor” as well as a couple of symphonies and some beautiful chamber music.
Music and science have been associated in more than mere casual ways for centuries. Pythagoras, the 5th Century BC Greek mathematician discovered that the square of the hypotenuse of a right triangle equals the sum of the squares of the other two sides is also believed to have discovered the major intervals in a musical scale by dividing a string into proportional lengths.
Physics and music seem to have a special affinity. Einstein was a very competent violinist. Oppenheimer, the physicist who headed the Los Alamos Laboratory and atomic bomb project was particularly fond of Beethoven symphonies. Edward Teller, who later became Oppenheimer’s arch rival, used to keep colleagues at Los Alamos awake by playing Beethoven sonatas on a piano in his thin-walled barracks quarters.
Among the better university orchestras in the United States is that of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where some 80% of the players are majoring in science or engineering, and the orchestra performs some of the giant symphonies of Mahler and Bruckner. Maureen Burford, their manager, thinks “many of them would have ended up at Julliard if they hadn’t come here.”
Serious music is widely recognized as an important ingredient in the sustenance of scientific creativity. At Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois, a concert hall is part of the working plant. Director Leon Lederman says “we realized from the outset that to lure first-rate physicists to this country from the great laboratories in Europe would mean competing at a cultural level as well as a professional level.”
Guitar Hero and Rock Band aren’t only being played in living rooms, they’ve found countless hours in the creative brainstorming rooms of Silicon Valley startups. The youngest tech stars, the brightest IT skills, to coding kings, to visionary entrepreneurs, music can be the fuel to get the creative juices going.
In our high tech world recruiters and business leaders have recognized that locating in communities where there is investment and commitment to the arts, particularly music, is vital to attracting the best from the talent pool. Just like a piano or musical instrument needs to be tuned to play its best notes, adding musical opportunities in the workplace can be your silver bullet to tune your recruiting and attract the top talent.