A shot from the documentary, The Majesty of Music and Math (Image: New Mexico PBS)

A television production written and hosted by SFI Professor Cris Moore won a 2019 Rocky Mountain Emmy Award in the instructional/informational category. The 58-minute “Majesty of Music and Math" was produced by Franz Joachim of New Mexico PBS, Miles O'Brien of PBS News Hour, and Penelope Penland of The Santa Fe Symphony. They were recognized in a September 22 ceremony in Tucson, AZ.  

The program follows Moore through Santa Fe as he scribes equations on a whiteboard at SFI, listens to Latin, folk, and jazz music on the plaza, visits the workshop of theremin player Andrew Baron, attends live performances by a Jemez Pueblo flutist and an a capella choral group, and co-hosts a special Santa Fe Symphony performance with principal conductor Guillermo Figueroa. Throughout, Moore reveals the ratios, frequencies, and symmetries that explain how we experience music— whether exalting, unsettling, or exhilarating. As viewers begin to explore the math that underlies music, they find that understanding ultimately enriches the experience of music itself.

"Music and math both reveal something fundamental about our world, a tension between simplicity and complexity, order and chaos,” Moore tells the viewers. "And they’re both very much a part of what makes us human.”

The "Majesty of Music and Math" first debuted in 2013 as a live stage presentation at The Lensic theater. It was the final presentation in a four-part series, "Voyages of Discovery," which paired SFI scientists with The Santa Fe Symphony in live concerts. Penland, who initiated the collaboration, says “it was all about making new work no one had seen before,” and exploring the intersections of science and music. The series also celebrated the mutual anniversaries of the institute and the symphony, which were both founded in 1984.

The success of the "Majesty of Music and Math" drew the attention of Joachim, CEO and General Manager for New Mexico PBS. Penland, Joachim, Moore, and Greg Heltman of the Santa Fe Symphony then collaborated to create a television adaptation for a national audience. The hard work of fundraising fell to Penland and to New Mexico PBS, in what Penland describes as "a decade of relationship building, followed by an hour of yeses!'" Between Penland's fundraising and viewer support for NMPBS, they raised the  $750,000 needed to produce the show. Miles O’Brien, the national science correspondent for PBS News Hour, came on board in 2016, directing the production and filming it with his crew.

In an email to New Mexico PBS, O’Brien called the production “a career highlight for my team and me. We are always looking for ways to tackle complex, abstract concepts and explain them to a wide audience. So the idea of giving people some new understanding of math through music – and vice versa – intrigued us from the outset.”

The production first aired on New Mexico PBS in September of 2018. As of September 2019, it has aired on 70 channels across 18 states, reaching a potential 90 million viewers. The full video is available online through PBS.org. Educational applets and lesson plans by NMPBS and the Santa Fe Institute offer free educational resources for teachers who wish to explore music and mathematics in their classrooms.

The popularity of the program, and its latest recognition with a Rocky Mountain Emmy, have Moore, Penland, Joachim, and O’Brien hatching plans for another project. 

"Now that we’ve got the [regional] Emmy, we’re fired up,” Penland says. “If there are more things we can create that connect science, complexity, and the arts, that’d be great.”

"The Majesty of Music and Math embodies the best of New Mexico, combining high art and deep science in an enlightening and entertaining package," Joachim said. "We are pleased that this work is being recognized and congratulate everyone whose work shone through in this production.”

Read the article, "NMPBS brings home regional Emmy award," in the Albuquerque Journal (October 7, 2019)