Off to Band Camp for Adults

Thanks for all the looks at the site and the comments (none of which would have occurred without the referrals by Derek Lowe and Megan McArdle). I’ll be at a weeklong adult amateur chamber music festival, which the grandchild of one of the participants calls, with the usual clarity of childhood — band camp for adults.

I’ll be looking at comments and responding to them until the 23rd at noon and be back on the 30th.

For the musically inclined — find and listen to a Cello concerto written by a young Russian Cellist — Nina Kotova. It’s quite dark without being dissonant and very beautiful and tonal. I’m doing this partially out of guilt because I bought the CD for under 2 bucks. I’d love to hear what she’d do with a Piano Cello sonata I wrote years ago.

She’s a former model, which may explain the sultry photo and the decolletage on the CD cover. But this sort of thing seems to be required of any female classical musician. We had the pleasure of listening to Hillary Hahn when she was a cute frisky teenager years ago. Look at her CD covers now. Yo Yo Ma has never appeared in a Speedo to my knowledge. It just doesn’t seem right.

I posted the following on the “Skeptical Chymist” before going off last year about this time. It’s written for chemists. Enjoy

Chemiotics: Apologies to Borodin
Posted on behalf of Retread

Can you picture yourself spending a week with a group of people who can’t tell an Angstrom from arugula, some of whom are wary of all “chemicals”. Many highly analytic types (mathematicians, computer scientists, physicists, electrical engineers and even chemists) do just that and enjoy it immensely. I speak of adult amateur chamber music festivals (or ‘band camp for adults’ as one of my friend’s grandkids calls them). After 35 years of them, I only met the 5th chemist this year. They are vastly outnumbered by the other analytics, particularly mathematicians and physicists.

Participants are highly educated for the most part, but the most talented cellist this year was a moving-company man who hauls furniture around for a living, and I still remember playing with a marvellous 300-pound violist years ago who was a jail matron.

If you were an aspiring organic chemist in the early 60s, the bible was “Mechanism and Structure in Organic Chemistry” by Edwin S. Gould, a physical chemist amazingly enough. He also happens to be an excellent violinist and I had the pleasure of playing with him a few years ago. He’s still active in research although he received his PhD from UCLA in 1950. Who says chemicals are toxic!?

Occasionally the two cultures do clash, and a polymer chemist friend is driven to distraction by a gentle soul who is quite certain that “chemicals” are a very bad thing. For the most part, everyone gets along. Despite the very different mindsets, all of us became very interested in music early on, long before any academic or life choices were made.

So, are the analytic types soulless automatons producing mechanically perfect music which is emotionally dead? Are the touchy-feely types sloppy technically and histrionic musically? A double-blind study would be possible, but I think both groups play pretty much the same (less well than we’d all like, but with the same spirit and love of music).

I wonder why chemists are so outnumbered in this group? It’s been downhill ever since Alexander Borodin. Perhaps a larger sample is needed. Any thoughts?

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  • CMCguy  On August 23, 2009 at 12:47 am

    I trust you have (had) an enjoyable Band Camp.

    As I read this post two things came to my mind. The first is that in my experience a high percentage of scientists seem to have music in their backgrounds, at least a fair number of chemists whom I am most familiar with. Many were in organized school Bands (me), Choirs or Orchestras, or otherwise played piano or participated in a “garage band” (with a few doing part-time gigs still). I don’t have any statistical support and am not aware of any studies on this but have often wondered if there is a “correlation or causation” with the math inherent in music and the math that underpins the sciences. Of course this could be anecdotal (based on 5th chemists/35 years perhaps chemists are not into chamber music) yet I have always considered such a connection as possible reinforcement in development of many scientists backgrounds.

    The second thought is another possible similarity that I have contemplated about in that Music and Art (or Artists) in general are often portrayed as highly creative and free flowing where as Science is described as a “method or process”. These areas are viewed quite differently yet in reality much of science progress requires creativity and innovation of individuals and/or groups. Sometimes scientists can have a difficult time communicating to and getting understanding of the public just as reactions to certain Art. Again would seem each group draws on similar cores even if the products are different.

  • luysii  On August 23, 2009 at 10:21 am

    I think that what you say is a good explanation for the scientific/technical types, but the touchy feely types account for about 50% of the players and their thinking is far from scientific. They usually shudder when they come across me sitting on the dock reading a math book. Math is one of the few forms of intellectual activity which is socially acceptable to hate. Try emitting something like “I was never good at poetry/modern dance/English literature/modern painting/sculpture and really hated it” at a cocktail party — you’ll have the hors d’oeuvres to yourself.

  • Curious Wavefunction  On August 24, 2009 at 8:22 am

    As the mathematician and author John Casti says, it was saying that he was an unemployed tennis coach looking for work that made his social index shoot up like a Minuteman.

  • Curious Wavefunction  On August 24, 2009 at 8:24 am

    Enjoy your time at the Band Camp

  • madkathy  On September 3, 2009 at 11:30 am

    Last year, the UW Madison chemistry department held a concert in its seminar hall. The concert was a hit, standing room only, and nearly all attendees were chemists. Bridging the gap, one department at a time…

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