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Science-music mix creates sparks in Purdue Symphony Orchestra

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Mozart pursued mathematical puzzles with passion, while at the same time composing music so passionate and intricate, it continues to amaze some 200 years following its creation.

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Research has confirmed a link between the study of music and academic success. And like Mozart, a majority of the 93-member Purdue Symphony Orchestra has a strong interest in math and science. Of the orchestra's members, 85 percent list science, engineering or technology as majors.

Katie Ward, a Purdue University junior from Carmel, Ind., is one such student. An actuarial science and statistics major, she spends most of her day pouring over scientific and mathematical details. But on Thursday, Feb. 20, Ward will join other orchestra members in providing Indianapolis area residents a chance to hear music textured by young scientific minds during a special 8 p.m. concert at the Hilbert Circle Theatre.

All the money raised through the $10 admission will fund scholarships for students who make orchestra part of their academic curriculum at Purdue. Tickets can be purchased by calling the Purdue Box Office at (765) 494-3933 or the Hilbert Circle Theatre at (317) 639-4300 or (800) 366-8457.

The concert features trumpet soloist Susan Rider, a former trumpet instructor at Purdue who is a member of "The President's Own" U.S. Marine Band. She will perform Alexander Arutunian's "Concert for Trumpet and Orchestra."

Jay S. Gephart, orchestra director, says the concert promises to give the Purdue orchestra the statewide exposure it deserves.

"The orchestra has never had its own identity," Gephart says. "This concert will help to establish a really solid identity. There's still a best-kept-secret mentality surrounding the Purdue orchestra, and I don't want it to be that way."

Scholarships funded by the concert should lure even more students like Ward to the orchestra.

"Katie is one of the most talented musicians I've ever had the opportunity to work with," Gephart says. "She also has a very businesslike approach to performing, which typifies the science and engineering students in the Purdue orchestra."

Gephart says he appreciates the work ethic science and engineering majors like Ward bring to the orchestra.

"They bring a very analytical approach to music, from a technical standpoint, to the orchestra — and you can't beat that," Gephart says. "They're very concerned about detail and very quick to develop mathematical understanding of rhythm and meter."

Ward says her major requires her to take a large number of mathematics and statistics classes, and that coursework comes in handy for orchestra.

"Obtaining skills from those classes allows me to have the ability to understand difficult technical passages in music," she says.

Education studies provide evidence that students who study music as children enjoy greater academic success and sharpen their skills in math and science. Research in the late 1980s by Frank Wilson, a clinical professor of neurology at the University of California School of Medicine, showed that involvement in music connects and develops the motor systems of the brain in young people in a way that cannot be replicated by any other activity.

Grace Nash, an Arizona music educator, found that incorporating music into mathematics lessons enabled students to learn multiplication tables and math formulas more easily. Other studies in the area of mathematics show gains in test scores in math for music students when compared to non-music students.

Other musicians in the Purdue orchestra say they believe there's a link connecting their passion for music with their majors. Justin Quear, a freshman animal science major from Fishers, Ind., and a percussionist, also noticed early on that music sharpened his math skills.

"I especially noticed a difference in counting and doing quick mental math. After I started studying music each of these became easier for me to do," he says.

When trombonist Kristen Wilde moved with her family to Carmel, Ind., as a middle school student, she was moved up one grade in just two classes – math and band.

"Music connects the intellectual and emotional sides of your brain and inspires the type of creativity that leads to good problem solving in math and science," says the sophomore chemical engineering major.

Time management, discipline, teamwork and self-confidence are among the other skills participation in music fosters.

"Studying music teaches a great amount of dedication and discipline," says Meredith Hill, a cellist and biology major from Carmel, Ind. "Both of these help out with math and science because these areas require the students to be very structured. Music also teaches you to work with other people because, when you are in an ensemble, you have to be sensitive enough to know when to back off or when it is your turn to come out."

Katherine Klemen, a mechanical engineering major, also from Carmel, Ind., says music's ability to provide an escape also means a lot to students.

"As an engineering student, you really come to appreciate the relaxation of music," Klemen says. "In a curriculum packed with math and physics courses, it is nice to get to exercise your additional knowledge and skills for a change of scenery."

Ward says the connection to music runs deep for scientist-musicians like her.

"I'm a fairly quiet individual," she says. "In classes I'm not one to ask questions. One way I can express myself is through music. It's my outlet. It's probably been the one thing I've been involved in that I've had the most passion for. I just really enjoy it."

Matthew Saner, a junior computer technology major from Mooresville, Ind., and a member of the second violin section, says Purdue's musicians also see themselves as part of a unique continuum.

"I believe being a technology major is the way of the future, and that I am a link to the past with my interest for classical music," Saner says. "I love being a part of both history and the future."

The Hilbert Circle Theatre concert is sponsored by Indiana Power and Light, National City Bank, Purdue Alumni of Indianapolis and the Purdue Alumni Association. Gordon and Carole Mallett of Zionsville, Ind., and James and Mary Sexton of Naperville, Ill., also provided financial support.

Gordon Mallett, president of the Purdue Association of Indianapolis, says he seized the opportunity to support the symphony.

"The Purdue Association of Indianapolis is made up of avid supporters of Purdue University," Mallet says. "We are always looking for ways to increase Purdue's presence in Indianapolis. We think supporting the Purdue Symphony is an excellent way to support Purdue students and a key opportunity to highlight the breadth of Purdue offerings – scientific, economic and cultural – to the community."

CONTACT: Kathy Matter, (765) 496-6785,; Gordon Mallett, (317) 873-2009.


NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: All students featured in this release are from the Indianapolis metro area. Media interested in interviews should contact Kathy Matter, Purdue Bands public relations director, at (765) 496-6785.


Meredith Hill, a cellist and biology major from Carmel, rehearses for a Feb. 20 concert at the Hilbert Circle Theatre in Indianapolis. (Purdue News Service photo/David Umberger)

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