While it is true that I never regretted leaving my life as a professional cellist, about a dozen years after beginning to study mathematics I woke up and realized I wanted a banjo.
I didn’t know how to play a banjo. But ever since I was four years old I have loved the sound of a banjo.
So I got in my car, drove to the nearest music store, had the proprietress play a couple banjos for me and bought one. As I loaded my new banjo into my car, it felt very natural to have an instrument in my hand again.
I loved having it. But although I poked around at it a bit I didn’t actually begin to learn to play it until many years later.
Five or six years went by. In my mathematical life, I needed a good “professional development” project so I wrote a freshman level course which explored how various bits of math describe “music that sounds good.”
My course was approved and I taught it three times over four years, each time experiencing in my heart, thus improving my ability to teach, more of how music and mathematics enrich each other.
Then I woke up one morning and knew it was time to learn how to play my banjo. That summer I went to banjo camp and came home with Skip to M’Lou and Short’n’n Bread firmly in my ear and occasionally accessible to my fumbling fingers.
I got all fired up about learning to play by ear. My mental grasp of music was very different in this world where music notation isn’t central to the enterprise! I began to wonder what an experience of mathematics would feel like if we could transmit it without notation.
When it came time to imagine my ideal retirement lifestyle, I relished the though of being able to develop these “math by ear” ideas. I knew too that I wanted to learn more about statistics and financial math. I planned to finish several intriguing knitting patterns. And of course, I would keep learning how to play my banjo better and better.
Now that projects and plans were in place I could begin to settle on what to send over the Great Plains, a desert and two mountain ranges to meet me in California.
The featured image is a snapshot of a blackboard demonstration of calculating a rhythm to fit a descriptive sentence. We did a few of these exercises in my class.
In the next posts we’ll continue ideas for creative decluttering, otherwise known as alternatives to hiring a dumpster.