With the title of concertmaster in Mississippi State’s Philharmonia, one would expect Benjamin Shudak to have eagerly dedicated years to studying Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. Instead, he admits to finding classical music a little boring.
For the senior mechanical engineering major, music was a means to an end until he arrived at Mississippi State University.
“I never really wanted to study music. It was more that if I wanted to do stuff like play sports, my parents said I had to play music,” Shudak said. “That’s the reason I kept playing in high school. Then I came to Mississippi State and I guess I finally realized how beneficial it is to be able to play an instrument.”
While his parents encouraged musical studies to ensure that their five children led well-rounded lives, Shudak’s lessons have reaped unexpected benefits. He said being first chair violin as a freshman, and the responsibilities that come with the position, helped him adjust to college life by making him focus on what’s important.
“They say practice makes perfect, but it’s more than that,” the Chicago native explained. “It’s really perfect practice makes perfect. That’s true for orchestra and engineering because whether you are working on a piece of music or a class problem, you have to make sure you’re working it the right way. It really teaches you discipline.”
Fellow Philharmonia member and principal flute Emily Smith agreed, saying that music forces instrumentalist to think logically and learn to be persistent. The added benefit, according to the May biological engineering graduate, is that music and the math required for engineering are complementary.
“I feel like to excel in music, it helps to have a strong math background. And to me, that ties music and engineering together,” said Smith, a Little Rock, Ark., native. “Music is a language in itself built off of measures with certain values. You have to visualize each note and if you are good at logical math it helps a lot with the rhythms.”
The success of these engineering majors in the Philharmonia doesn’t surprise director Richard Human. He explained the reason musicians seem to grasp mathematics and those who are good at math seem to get music is that they are essentially the same processes expressed through different products.
“Math and science are tools to understand the composition, action and interactions of the world around us, while music is the composition of sounds to express how the world acts upon us,” the associate professor of music explained. “I think that people engaged in both realms are not only building higher functions of both the analytical and artistic sides of their brains but also deepening the interaction between the two.”
For proof of how knowledge of one field can make one appreciate the other, just look at Shudak, the Philharmonia’s own reluctant musician. He might not have picked up the violin thinking he would one day lead an orchestra, but now it’s a part of who he is.
“I don’t know if it’s college maturing me or what, but I guess I finally realized the beauty of making music. Practice is enjoyable now,” Shudak said. “It’s fun to sit down and work out the different parts of the music and it’s fun to perform for an audience that appreciates the music.”