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In Depth

Christopher Levy '15 and Sara Korash-Schiff '15: The Production of Overtones in Choral Music

Science, Society and the Arts

Science, Society, and the Arts is a multi-disciplinary conference involving Washington and Lee undergraduates and law students in the presentation of their academic achievements before an audience of their peers and the faculty. Conference participants share their work via oral presentations, traditional academic conference-style panels, poster sessions, artistic shows, or creative performances.

In the weeks leading up to the conference on March 12-13, we will profile a few of the projects being presented by students.

Briefly describe your research project.

The choirs at W&L (University Singers, Cantatrici, and Men's Glee Club) will be performing several different pieces that utilize varying techniques for creating sound: different voicings of ensembles, harmonic overtone singing, creation of resonant frequencies via wine goblets and hand chimes, etc. The pieces will focus on the physics of the many ways sound can be produced.

What about this project called you to exploration?

Many of the members of the choirs are music/science double majors or just science majors with a great interest in singing. Having a project that can combine these student interests within the spirit of SSA seemed ideal.

What was the most interesting thing you learned while working in this subject matter?

The unique manner in which tone can be produced, including the wide variety of ways to use the human voice, has opened up the possibility for great exploration of the science of music. It is also fascinating how different vocal approaches/techniques can produce vastly different sounds.

What was the biggest challenge in completing this project?

The biggest challenge was definitely the amount of time and effort required to be able to learn and perform these pieces. The University Singers meet four days a week, while the Men's Glee Club and Cantatrici meet three days a week, and all have been rehearsing these pieces for some time. Other challenges were learning to actually produce the overtones-which requires that the piece stays in perfect tune-or singing along with resonating wine goblets-which produce an inconsistent and constantly bending pitch as the lattice structure of the crystal vibrates.

What insight(s) did you gain from creating this project?

The greatest insight is that our minds should be open to more realms of ways in which the arts and music combine. Often musical performance and a science like physics are thought of as disparate fields of study, but in actuality, they are both quite similar. Both require a high level of creativity, and each area's knowledge base compliments the other quite effectively.

What was your favorite part of creating this project?

The chance to perform a work that calls for tuned, resonating wine goblets. That is just a surreal experience.

In your mind, what is the value of considering science, society and the arts in the same context?

Particularly in music, it is impossible to separate science, society, and the arts. Music falls into the "arts" category, but every note sung and all of the chords created can be explained by physics. Furthermore, music has an extremely important role in society, as it often reflects the period and shows the evolution of society over time.

Transformative Education

Washington and Lee seeks to foster an atmosphere of self-discovery and an environment where anything is possible.

In Action People and Programs

Washington and Lee fosters an atmosphere of self-discovery and an environment where anything is possible. From research theses to fully student-led theater productions, the University makes it easy for students to follow their dreams. Every year, students present research proposals to faculty and pursue hypotheses in both the sciences and the arts. Student research can occur both on campus and off, with research grants specifically designated for both areas.

With an average class size of 16, it's easy to find faculty advisors for both major projects and new clubs. Many students propose self-guided majors or pursue a double-or even triple-major, given the inclusive nature of a liberal arts education. This provides students with the opportunity to discover their passions, and also with the support to pursue them.

The University's four-week Spring Term is designed to be transformative. The courses offered during the term are set up with the dream-class concept in mind, remarkable examples of creative and expansive teaching: studying painting in Italy; the Freedom Rides throughout the South; the physics of music; code-breaking in mathematics and history; aerial dance; and many, many more. Rigorous internships and co-curricular programs like Mock Convention, the Venture Club and the Williams Investment Society immerse students in real-world learning situations that bring the concepts they've studied in the classroom to life.

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At a Glance Facts and Figures

At W&L, 22% of classes have 2-9 students, 49% have 10-19 students, 27% have 20-29 students and just 1% has 30-39 students.
44 Johnson Scholarships are awarded annually.
114 Johnson Opportunity Grants have been awarded since 2009 to support student summer experiences.
The W&L course catalog includes 1200+ courses in 37 majors and 21 minors.
190 new courses were created by W&L faculty for the new four-week Spring Term.

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Washington and Lee University provides a liberal arts education that develops students' capacity to think freely, critically, and humanely and to conduct themselves with honor, integrity, and civility. Graduates will be prepared for life-long learning, personal achievement, responsible leadership, service to others, and engaged citizenship in a global and diverse society.