The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music Q&A: Science and music will meet again this Friday night in a FREE lecture-concert at the second SoundWaves program at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery.

October 21, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

This Friday night, Oct. 25, at 7 p.m. in the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, this season’s second SoundWaves event will take place. It is FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.

The curator of the unusual program that combines science and music is University of Wisconsin-Madison horn professor Daniel Grabois. Besides teaching, he also performs in the Gretzler band with his colleague UW trombonist Mark Hetzler, the Meridian Arts Ensemble and the Wisconsin Brass Quintet.

For some background about the program and the first concert-lecture in September, which featured songs by Gustav Mahler, here is a link to a terrific interview with Grabois on the UW School of music blog “Fanfare”:

Grabois (below) recently offered The Ear a Q&A about this week’s lecture-concert and about the program in general.

Here it is:

Daniel Grabois 2012  James Gill

What is SoundWaves?

SoundWaves is a series I started last year. Each of our events takes on a theme, and explores it from various scientific angles (all aimed at the layman), then from a musical angle (I do that part), followed by a music performance relating to the theme.

The idea is for the public to learn about the world we live in, and to see how music fits in as well. Most of our presenters are UW faculty scientists and performers. At SoundWaves, they have an opportunity to share their knowledge in a non-technical way for people who are curious.

What kind of themes does SoundWaves tackle?

Our first event was called “Music to Our Ears.” We had a physicist talk about what sound is, a hearing expert talk about how the ear works, a neuroscientist discuss how the brain processes the ear’s signal, and a psychologist talk about how sounds affect our emotions.

We then performed the Horn Trio by Johannes Brahms (below), a patently emotional piece of music.

Doing that as our first event taught me that flow was really important: each lecture had to set up the next one. Other themes last year were Measurement, Tools, and Sequences. The theme of our October event is Groups and Their Behaviors.


Who is speaking and performing this Friday?

An entomologist will discuss bee communication. A mathematician will introduce us to group theory. A researcher from the Center for Complexity and Collective Computation (you have to love the UW!!!) will talk about his research regarding how groups of objects function in the physical world (through physics and chemistry), then what that tells us about group behavior in primates (including humans). And I’ll be talking about how musical groups function, specifically with regard to musicians’ body language.

After that, Linda Bartley (UW clarinetist, below top, in a photo by Katrin Talbot), Christopher Taylor (UW pianist, below bottom) and I will perform part of the Reinecke Trio for Clarinet, Horn (that’s me) and Piano. (A performance of Reinecke’s Trio on a YouTube video is at the bottom.)

Linda Bartley Talbot


Where is this project going?

Good question. I got a wonderful grant from the Chester Knapp Charitable Bequest to put on eight events this year, which I have to admit is a lot. But I’m having no trouble finding scientists to collaborate with, and I’m having a great time.

The biggest benefit for me is meeting all these great new people and learning lots of interesting stuff from them. Also, we’ve been having big audiences, and I love getting our School of Music faculty out of our building for performances in the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery building (below, in a photo by Jeff Miller of the UW). WID is located at the corner of Orchard and University and is an amazing building).


What other themes will you be taking on this year?

Color, newness, rhythm, wood, repetition and metal.

How do you come up with themes?

I just sit down and think, “What do I want to know?” It’s pretty easy, since there’s so much I don’t know! And, here at UW, there’s a scientist available to answer just about any question you could think to ask.

For example, the instrument I play, the French horn (below), is made out of metal, but when push comes to shove, I have basically no idea what metal is, how it is manufactured, why making instruments out of it is a good idea, and so on. The music for the event on metal is planned already, and when I am ready to start lining up scientists, I’ll head straight to the Materials Science department, then Chemistry, maybe Engineering, and so on.

Once the theme is chosen, my questions about the theme lead me straight to the right science people. And I have to tip my cap to Laura Heisler (the program director at WID), who knows tons of scientists and has put me in touch with many brilliant people.

French horn

Is the science hard to understand?

NO!!! Our basic ground rules are: no jargon, no technical stuff unless it’s absolutely necessary. Last year, a chemist explained what DNA really is, and I think we all got it!

Where can people get more information?

Go to for a list of our events. They all start at 7 p.m. Everything is FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC. In the WID building, right in the middle of the giant ground floor is a big round space called the DeLuca Forum (below), where we have our events.

Wisconsin Institute for Discovery

Why should people come?

The UW-Madison has brilliant scientists and musicians. Come hear what they have to say and play, and learn about our world.

Classic music Q&A: How and why did Madison’s newest chamber music group Sound Ensemble Wisconsin (SEW) – which makes its public debut this Friday night – come into being?

June 5, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

ALERT: The Madison Symphony Orchestra has posted an In Memorium for its former longtime music director Roland Johnson (below), who died at 91 last Wednesday. Here is a link: And here is a link to the post I filed about it with other links to other stories:

This coming Friday at 7:30 p.m. in the Forum of the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, Madison newest chamber music group — the Sound Ensemble of Wisconsin or SEW — will hold its inaugural concert.

The unusual and intriguingly structured program features the music of Bartok, Ravel, Kodaly and Debussy.

Tickets at the door cost $25 for general admission; $10 for students.

Co-founder and direct Mary Theodore (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) recently gave an e-mail Q&A to The Ear about the group and its upcoming concert:

What is Sound Ensemble Wisconsin?

Sound Ensemble Wisconsin is a new chamber music organization based in Madison and serving Wisconsin. SEW presents original performances of diverse repertoire for a variety of ensembles and utilizes local and regional performers with occasional guest artists.

Why did you decide to start another chamber music group in a city that has so much already? Do you have a special goal or mission?

While we aim to serve an existent classical music audience with engaging performances of the highest artistic standard, our major mission is to support and promote the culture of classical music and the arts in all of Wisconsin by sharing music with more people.

We do this by offering thoughtful, theme-based programming, collaborating with other artists in the creative process, and performing in a non-traditional stage-audience relationship in varying venues. (See the distinctive poster below)

We find and SEW what we call “the common thread” to create connections between people and the arts, between art forms through collaboration, between generations, between audience and musician, between musical culture and underserved populations, and between diverse communities throughout Wisconsin.

Our musical community is already so wonderfully supportive and intertwined. We hope to help strengthen this community and offer it more longevity by increasing audience and perpetuating a collegial relationship between organizations.

I’m a proud member of both the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the Madison Symphony Orchestra, and each colleague who is playing on our upcoming concert, as well as every member of our board, has ties to these and other local and regional musical organizations.

We hope that our listeners will buy tickets to hear another ensemble because we have helped encourage them to take this step.

How did the group come about and get started, and what are its plans for the future?

The idea for SEW came to me in the fall of 2011 after having a discussion with Chris Dozoryst (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) about how to bring more people to music by way of chamber music.  Together, Chris and I founded SEW as a Wisconsin non-stock corporation in mid-October (our federal 501-c3 status is currently pending).

Since February, we’ve held several free preview concerts for our June 8 inaugural concert.  We also have a full season planned for 2012-2013 that can be perused on our website at and which includes participation in the Science Festival at Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery (below) with a performance/sound installation, a collaboration with Underground Food Collective, and several other events.

For each of our major concerts, we also provide a free preview concert at a distinctive venue.  Details can be found at the bottom of the events page of our website.

Our events for next season will be held mostly in Madison, though we have one performance scheduled for Oct. 20 at the Hillside Theatre (below) at Taliesin in Spring Green to coincide with the Fall Art Tour.  However, we plan to serve all of Wisconsin once our first season has allowed us some solid footing.

Can you comment briefly on the upcoming debut concert and its program?

We’re holding our inaugural concert on Friday, June 8, in the Forum at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery.  This concert, as our listeners should come to expect, will offer something original and provocative.

We will be featuring Bartok (below) as our “narrator” and pairing excerpts from his prolific writings with three sets of his Duets for Two Violins, interspersed between the major pieces of the program. Bartok will be the “common thread” that weaves this program together as he comments on each composer on the program.

The major pieces will include Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Cello, Kodaly’s “Serenade” and Debussy’s String Quartet.  “Participants,” as we like to call our audience, can also be prepared to feel part of the music as they will be surrounding the musicians and at times will even hear music from behind them.

Our friend and special guest, Anders Yocom (below), will act as Bartok.  Participants will be treated to musicians Michael Allen, Christopher Dozoryst, Naha Greenholtz, Leanne League, Maggie Townsend, and Mary Theodore.  There will also be an extra musical surprise.

Is there anything else you would like to say or add?

We’re thrilled to see the beginning of our ideas’ coming into fruition and very much look forward to serving up the best we can offer to Wisconsin.  Please see our website and FACEBOOK pages for more information, and please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments through the website at, or at, or at (646) 872-5155. If you’d like to be included on SEW’s e-mail notification list for upcoming performances, please send an e-mail.

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