For years, scientists have suspected that science and music are closely connected. In 2010, seven scientists from the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation under the direction of Chickasaw composer Jerrod Tate, set out to prove the theory. The scientists were given ten days to compose and arrange original musical compositions before the pieces were performed by a string quartet before a live audience.
The amazing experiment was filmed by the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority (OETA) for its “State of Creativity” series. The final product, a documentary entitled “The Science of Composing,” won the team an Emmy award.
Tate described the project as a “really different experience that expanded my sense of being a teacher.”
“When we presented this idea to all the scientists, they had a very very reserved reaction . They were studying and critically evaluating, and there was a bit of a distancing. So it didn’t start out with a big group hug; it started out with a lot of thinking and evaluating,” he laughed.
Dr. Courtney Gray-McGuire, who works on genetic inflammatory disorders, said she had been feeling as though she were in need of a “spark” to help rekindle her creative thinking. She hoped the project would “reinvigorate her science.” Laughingly, she admitted that although her interest was piqued, the project sounded impossible. “But I was thrilled to give it a shot,” she said. “It was a very powerful experience.”
Dr. Jordan Tang, who conducts Alzheimer’s research, said he was at first both excited and skeptical about the experiment. “I always thought that composing music , it would more or less flow out of you; but the whole process is so thought-demanding that it greatly exceeded my expectations.” In the end, he saw it as an “emotional commitment . . . like doing a full project in your lab.”
“In individual people, composition is a very unique, isolated experience. They have very different personalities and very different needs. It’s completely unique for every person,” Tate pointed out. The scientists “engaged the passion very quickly, and they just got to work, which is typical of a researcher. If they get an idea, then boom – they’re on it. They do all the research that’s necessary. They really applied themselves as scientists,” he observed.
Tate said he gets a “wonderful, complete feeling” from teaching composing. “You literally start with absolutely nothing. Every single moment of the performance I savour as much as I can because it’s so short in comparison to the process in general of composing.” He said he is proud of the team’s accomplishments and he thanked Chickasaw Governor Bill Anoatubby for recommending him as a cultural ambassador for the state of Oklahoma.
“I would not be who I am without my family and my tribe,” he said. “I dedicate this Emmy Award to the people of the Chickasaw Nation. It belongs to all of us.”