Jamming with the mathematician

“The musician feels mathematics, the mathematician thinks music” was famously said by James Joseph Sylvester, a renowned mathematician. It was also one of the opening quotes that mathematician Michael Manning used in his presentation on Thursday, Feb. 20 at 11 a.m., as part of the OnDeck Premier Series, titled “Measuring the Muse: Why Music Excites the Mathematical Mind.” Manning holds degrees in Applied Mathematics, Pure Mathematics and Music from Yale University. In addition, he is also a publications editor for Oxford University Press, has served on the faculties of Christopher Newport, Northeastern and Western Kentucky Universities and has served as a music critic for the Boston Globe.

Manning’s presentation combined music and math and tried to prove the similarities between the two. He said that “math and music are looking for beauty. That is common for both of them.” Using a piano that was on the stage, Manning was able to prove the relationship between the two by demonstrating the concept of the overtone series. Lydia Kennedy, Associate Professor of Mathematics and Chair of the Mathematics/Computer Science Department said she “really enjoyed learning about the relationship between overtones and the multiple frequencies.”

Professor Kennedy was just one of the many faculty that attended the lecture. Students were also present and seemed intrigued by the complex ideas that were presented to them. Sophomore Emily Geis said, “I was expecting it to be more about psychology and why mathematicians generally tend to enjoy music more than non-mathematicians, so I was surprised when he started talking about real math and why some aspects of music are the way they are.” Manning spoke about concepts such as the convergent and divergent series as a way to prove the relationship between math and music in a more concrete manner.

Geis also said, “As both a musician and a math major, I found his talk to be satisfying in a way, because I’ve always known that there’s a lot of math in music, but I’ve never been able to express that on a piece of paper before.” Sophomore Christine Zalameda was also in attendance. She said, “It was most interesting when he proved the harmonic series using musical notes.”

Due to weather conditions, the concert that was supposed to be held that night at 7:30 p.m. has been postponed and rescheduled to a later date yet to be determined.

Faith Macwana