Music, math collide on New Mexico PBS educational program

Monday, Sept. 10, 2018 8:39 PM

SANTA FE, N.M. – New Mexico PBS has partnered with the Santa Fe Institute and the Santa Fe Symphony Orchestra to produce an hour-long educational program.

The program, The Majesty of Music and Math, which premiered Thursday night, explores the mathematical concepts behind music, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported .

New Mexico PBS General Manager and CEO Franz Joachim said he wanted to create a multimedia tool for math teachers to help build interest and maybe boost scores, as New Mexico students consistently rank at the bottom in math proficiency nationwide.

“Kids have a hard time relating math to the real world,” Joachim said. “Well, this is relating to something you hear every day.”

Joachim said New Mexico PBS worked with the Santa Fe Institute and the local orchestra on the three-year project to create something even a “science geek” like him could learn from.

Cris Moore, a mathematics, physics and computer science professor at the Santa Fe Institute, serves as the program’s on-air host. He uses a Chladni plate to show how different pitches create mathematical patterns. The plate, named for German physicist and musician Ernst Chladni from the early 1800s, is a piece of metal balanced on a peg and topped with sand. Designs form in the sand as the sound waves cause it to vibrate.

“For a lot of people, mathematics seems intimidating,” Moore said in a recent interview. “It’s something they didn’t enjoy in school. The way we teach math in most schools, kids don’t get to see the beauty of it or the fun of it because they’re stressing about making a mistake.”

In the show, Moore uses familiar music performed by the 65-member orchestra, such as a piece by Bach and the Mission Impossible theme, to show the connections between math and music.

“The way (math) is taught in schools, it seems like this dead, dry thing,” he said. “Hopefully if people see this program, it’ll make math sing to them. . If it helps math come alive for some people, even one kid in New Mexico, it was worth it.”

Principal conductor Guillermo Figueroa for the Santa Fe Symphony Orchestra and Chorus said the orchestra was proud to have participated in creating something that will reach people of all ages.

“The inexorable logic of music and the transcendent beauty of mathematics came together in a presentation that will appeal to the hearts and minds of musically and/or scientifically inclined audiences,” Guillermo wrote in an email.