By Brian Nixon, Special to ASSIST News Service
SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO (ANS – June 21, 2017) — I was reminded of the importance of PBS a few weeks back when a Twitter feed stated that it was the anniversary of Fred Rogers’ eloquent defense of public television. On May 1st, 1969 Fred Rogers testified before the U.S Senate Subcommittee on Communications . His testimony about the role public television has on children earned PBS $22 million dollars in federal funding, an increase from $9 million. It demonstrates that a Presbyterian minister with great love to give will go a long way.
Thanks, Mr. Rogers.
Like many children growing up in the 1970’s, PBS played an important role in my life. From my early childhood watching Mr. Rogers Neighborhood and Sesame Street to my recent fascination with detective programs like Inspector Lewis, Father Brown and Grantchester  to the host of news and special programming (Ken Burns’ documentaries, American Experience, etc.) to the amazing scientific, cultural, and public interest broadcasts, PBS has helped many Americans understand and interpret the world. To say the least, PBS has cultural influence in the US, molding communities across the country. Other than sporting events, PBS is the mainstay of programing that I watch to this day.
So when the opportunity came to participate in a live broadcast of a locally sponsored PBS program, I jumped at the chance.
Working in partnership with the Santa Fe Institute (SFI) — a national think tank dedicated to science and complex systems , New Mexico PBS-KNME co-sponsored The Majesty of Music and Mathematics in Santa Fe . Hosted by noted PBS and former CNN correspondent Miles O’Brien and narrated by mathematician and SFI computer scientist Dr. Cristopher Moore, the evening showcased the continual impact PBS has on a community.
Gathering in the historic Lensic Theater, the auditorium of people were given the privilege of participating with the Santa Fe Symphony and conductor Guillermo Figueroa on the confluence between music and mathematics, two worlds with much in common .
After some basic coaching led by O’Brien where pre-event footage was captured by several cameramen, we sat back and enjoyed Dr. Moore’s presentation and the symphonic performances. Our only job was to clap and listen. Both Moore and Figueroa spoke about the particular connection mathematics has to music, using music as the medium to showcase the connection. We heard pieces from Bach, John Williams, Gutav Holst, Richard Strauss, and many others.
We watched as O’Brien bantered with Moore and gave some cues as to the production of the program, scheduled to air in 2018. We sat thorough a couple of retakes and a set changes. O’Brien used these opportunities for the audience to ask question of Moore and Figueroa, seeking the basis for their love of music. For Moore it was through the music of Bach. For Figueroa it was the influence of his family.
The Majesty of Music and Mathematics was the fourth in a series between SFI and the Santa Fe Symphony. The original program debuted in 2013. In an editorial article published by the Santa Fe New Mexican, Dr. Moore comments on the connection between math and music, “Most people are taught in school that mathematics is a mechanical process: Plug the numbers in, turn the crank, follow the rules. If you get the right answer, you get a gold star. If it’s wrong, you get a big red X.
“But this isn’t what math is about, any more than English (or Spanish) is about spelling and grammar. Language is about beautiful poetry and great stories, not about dry rules and memorization. If we taught English the way we teach math, no child would be allowed to read a poem until they could spell it and diagram its sentences. No wonder so many people are turned off. (Sadly, our focus on standardized tests is only making this worse.)
“Despite the damage done in school, your natural love of math is still there, deep down. It reveals itself in the way your brain grabs on to music, to art, to the natural world — to anything with beauty and structure hidden in it.
“Math and music are both about patterns. When we hear a rhythm or a melody, we tap our feet and sing along. We like it when the music does what we expect it to. But we also like it when it surprises us, with a key change or a new variation on a theme. A good composer or songwriter includes just enough surprises to keep us on our toes, until at the end of the song when the pattern falls into place.
“When scientists and mathematicians look for patterns in the world, we’re doing the same thing you do when you listen to music — or even better, when you create your own. We try different patterns on, see if they lead somewhere, see if they sound right (or fit the data), and keep playing with them until they make sense. And then we try to understand why that pattern is there” .
It’s discussion like this that made the evening fun and informative. Moore, O’Brien, and Guillermo Figueroa did as Moore suggested: kept playing (or talking) until the intersection of the two worlds came together, a meeting of math and music, of numbers and the numinous.
And we’re the better for it.
And the fact that PBS was the vehicle upon which conversations and performances like The Majesty of Music and Mathematics occurs is evidence enough that PBS is essential to our national identity — as generated within individual communities like Santa Fe, proof that Fred Rogers was right: “Who we are in the present includes who we were in the past.” And PBS is a conduit of bringing the past to the present with an eye to future prospects.
For more information about PBS New Mexico, click here: http://www.newmexicopbs.org/
Photo captions: 1) Fred Rogers. 2) The Majesty of Music and Mathematics. 3) Miles O’Brien hosting the event. 4) Miles O’Brien and Dr. Cris Moore. 5) Brian Nixon.
About the writer: Brian Nixon is a writer, musician, artist, and minister. He’s a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus (BA), Veritas Evangelical Seminary (MA), and is a Fellow at Oxford Graduate School (D.Phil.). To learn more, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Nixon.
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