PictureI distinctly remember my first whiff of the ancient idea that music is a liberal art. I was probably 9 or 10 years old. My older brother and I were listening to some music (maybe a cool early Elton John album my brother owned), and he mentioned that he had learned in school that Bach’s music was all mathematical. I was astonished and offended. How dare someone say that music could be mathematical! Music was beautiful, exciting, fun, emotional — there was no way it could be mathematical. That would take away our humanity, our freedom.

During my college years, I took the required year-long tutorial in the mathematics of music. Much to my surprise, it was one of my favorite courses, one which opened a whole world of contemplation I had never known, and one which helped me understand one of the most important aspects of our day-to-day life. It was not really a very demanding course, because most of what we learned was pretty straightforward, understandable to anyone who can multiply and divide fractions.

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