Franz Joachim Talks About ‘The Majesty of Music and Math’

New PBS show aims to educate people about the relationship between music and math

A new production between New Mexico PBS, the Santa Fe Institute and the Santa Fe Symphony Orchestra aims to educate laymen about the interaction between math and music. The aptly titled The Majesty of Music and Math combines narrative elements with easily relatable math lessons and live performance, and New Mexico PBS CEO Franz Joachim discusses what inspired the network to produce the show, the new role of streaming and how The Majesty of Music and Math can help illustrate complex concepts to students. The program broadcasts on NM PBS on Thursday Sept. 6 at 7 pm.

SFR: What is The Majesty of Music and Math, and what is it trying to achieve?

FJ: It's an hour-long performance—and it's a hard one to pin down in terms of genre, but I'll say it's a performance piece, because it is performance-based. The program mixes performance by the Santa Fe Symphony Orchestra with a narrative that was written in collaboration with both the symphony and [mathematician] Cris Moore of the Santa Fe Institute. It looks at really interesting connections between math and music; and most people are aware that there are a lot of connections between math and music, but this really pinpoints some real interesting ones and uses the music as an example for how the math plays out. So, to me, it's turned out to be a really fascinating, enlightening look and those really neat connections.

What inspired you to produce the program? How did it come about?

I always am fascinated by the Santa Fe Institute, and my wife is an amateur classical violinist, so we attend a lot of classical music performances. I was very aware of the Santa Fe Symphony Orchestra, and always thought it would be a natural connection for us. Penelope Penland, who is affiliated with the symphony, approached me at an event and said, 'Look, we got this really neat performance we did in 2010, I think it would make great TV.' … This really kind of clicked with me, and when she mentioned that it was a collaboration with the Institute and I thought, wow, so here's two great groups that I've always wanted to work with and here's a project where I can work with them together. That was very attractive to me, and the science and math geek in me really got excited about it. This is just a really neat look and a really neat combination of two things that our audience in particular will find really interesting.

How did you plan on using streaming services to reach your viewers?

This is a real interesting time for television in general, because of a lot of influences are coming together, and streaming is a big one. It's changing the dynamic of everything we do. So, New Mexico PBS is pretty active, both on social media and in terms of streaming. We are part of the PBS app. If you use streaming devices like Roku, Apple TV, and smart TVs, you could download the PBS app. This program will be up on the PBS app concurrently with or very soon after the broadcast.

There's an educational component. How are you guys using it to inspire students, and are you willing to partner with public schools to further outreach?

Am I willing to partner with them? I would love to. I feel sometimes that I'm dragging, kicking and screaming at this. Absolutely, it was made for them. What this refers to is PBS LearningMedia. This is an online platform for PBS stations to work with partners in the community, particularly schools and particularly educators themselves. Essentially, it is a very large collection of multimedia assets that is meant to be used and designed to be use in the classroom. There are over 6,000 teachers in New Mexico who are accessing LearningMedia on a regular basis. So there is a huge collection.

We're going to take a lot of the really interesting concepts that are in The Majesty of Music and Math and we're building around them. For instance, you want to talk about fractions in a math class, right? There's a component to music that is directly related to fractions … so if you want to use music to help explain fractions, or you want to use fractions to help explain music, there's gonna be a learning object there that is interactive. Students can go online, teachers can go online, build a lesson around it, and actually engage and build your own beats using this toolset. I think it's a really fun, interesting way to take this content that was designed for broadcast and then pull it down and put it into the classroom. It's free, and it's available for everybody. Any teacher can sign up for free online. Any student can sign up for these things free online. It's part of what are bringing to New Mexico. It's part of our mission.

 Is there anything else you'd like to say before we go?

We learned a lot. I'm looking now to take this whole idea and the skills that we learned doing this performance and pulling this into other kinds of music. I have great interest in building out on other forms of music into New Mexico and working with partners in New Mexico and possibly launching a digital series that highlights local musical artists. One of the great spinoffs from this project is going to be an expansion of what New Mexico PBS does around New Mexico and the environment of music in New Mexico.

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