` Comments on Alive! with Music from Students, Faculty &s Others
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Comments on James Boyk's
Alive! with Music

From Students, Faculty & Others
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"I can only think of two or three examples in my years at Caltech of such interactive, loving, and humorously authoritative teaching." —Prof. Amnon Yariv

"I am a serious pianist and have personally benefited greatly from both playing and listening in these sessions. Mr. Boyk’s weekly dialogues at the piano, being simultaneously fun and serious, were one of the few things at Caltech that truly contributed to improving the quality of my academic life. I think [James Boyk] is one of the most normal and charming [people] I had met on campus, but with an extremely unusual professional knowledge-set encompassing music, mathematics, and engineering. Most importantly, he can communicate. It is hard to explain music, but he explains it beautifully and he explains it to us in our language. ...I hope Alive with Music will continue long with plentiful endowments." —Tong Wa (Tony) Chao, Ph.D. 2004

"It is a really powerful experience to have someone as dedicated and enthusiastic as Jim do this.... The renewed appreciation that one gains for the pieces he showcases and the increased awareness that he manages to elicit are a rare and truly valuable experience...." —Prof. Jean-Paul Revel, Dean of Students

"Among my most cherished memories of Caltech." —Anonymous grad student

"Boyk's acute sensitivity to the details of a performance, their relationships to what is written down in the music, and their connection to the overall effect make him a superb coach, able to temper his comments to the performer's level of receptiveness and technical ability to put them to use. His willingness to apply this process out loud to himself over a period of several weeks as he learned a new piece or revived a familiar one after laying it aside for a few years was an inspiring example..." —Jeff Greif, Ph.D. '82


"I was amazed at how much insight I had gained from the session." —Ryan Patterson '00

"Probably the only chance Caltech students will ever have to talk about music informally with top-notch classical musicians (Jim and his invited guests). I've never had a music teacher that went to this much trouble." —Mike Vanier, Ph.D. '01

"Combines a receptive and informal atmosphere with an intellectually and musically provocative approach that has impressed me as uniquely effective." —Visiting Prof. Stephen J. Weininger

"Mr. Boyk is an ideal 'friend, philosopher and guide.'" —Shayan Mookherjea '99

"This program is one of the best-kept secrets in the Caltech Community, and one of the most valuable! Although I neither perform nor study music formally I have learned a great deal from this program, and enjoyed it immensely." —Ellen G. Strauss, Senior Research Associate in Biology


"Perhaps the most important aspect of Jim's position at Caltech...is his dual role linking the sciences and the arts, by serving both as lecturer in EE and artist in residence." —Jay Labinger, Administrator, Beckman Institute

"An irreplaceable treasure." —Tim Rogstad (current JPL and former Caltech employee)

"You never knew ahead of time if he was going to take the piano apart, give a recital, try to learn a new piece of music, bring a famous musician, or give a piano lesson. Whatever it was, it was interesting, and I did my best not to miss a meeting." —Will Kazez, IBM Research Fellow in Mathematics

"Irreplaceable." —Mark Neidengard '97

"Unique in that it provides a very intimate opportunity—unheard of in my experience as a music professional—for non-performers, often people who know very little about music, to become part of a developing musical experience.... [Boyk is] an acclaimed expert in one field (piano) who seems so conversant with most areas of science that he can bridge the language—and thinking—gap that often exists between people in different disciplines. I cannot think of another professional musician who shares this ability...." —Margaret Thornhill, professional clarinetist

 


 
Quotes above are excerpted from following remarks

Prof. Amnon Yariv
"I can only think of two or three examples in my years at Caltech of such interactive, loving, and humorously authoritative teaching.
     "[O]ne of the hidden gems of life at Caltech. The free give and take between Boyk and the largely student class, the roaming, music-annotated conversation... and the performance by Boyk and/or the students make these a stimulating intellectual experience. Coupled with Boyk's natural enthusiasm and effusiveness, these occasions are an excellent antidote to the largely dry science and engineering curriculum. I do not believe that there exists a comparable opportunity at Caltech to learn to understand, appreciate, and love music as in Boyk's class. In addition, Boyk's twice a year piano recitals (recently resumed) have become an integral part of the musical scene. A lover of Schubert would have really appreciated his wonderful recent rendering of the 'Impromptus'."

Tong Wa (Tony) Chao, Ph.D. 2004(written June, '04)
"I was a graduate student at Caltech for five and a half years. I just finished my PhD in aeronautics in March and I am now working at Intel. The cultural shock from academic to industrial life has made me realize what I missed the most about my life at Caltech, and one of those is Mr. Boyk’s Alive with Music seminars....
     "I am a serious pianist and have personally benefited greatly from both playing and listening in these sessions. Mr. Boyk’s weekly dialogues at the piano, being simultaneously fun and serious, were one of the few things at Caltech that truly contributed to improving the quality of my academic life. I looked forward to them every Wednesday afternoon and they were important to me. Before I met Mr. Boyk, a friend of mine told me that he is an eccentric man. On the contrary, I think he is one of the most normal and charming person I had met on campus, but with an extremely unusual professional knowledge-set encompassing music, mathematics, and engineering. Most importantly, he can communicate. It is hard to explain music, but he explains it beautifully and he explains it to us in our language. I have always wondered how Caltech found him and whether anyone will be capable of hosting similar seminars when he retires. Although I am no longer at Caltech, I hope Alive with Music will continue long with plentiful endowments."

Shayan Mookherjea '99, Ph.D. 2003
"[A] 'class' (in the sense of active learning) like no other at Caltech - and every session I've attended has been educative, informative, and perhaps most importantly for us students taking a break between classes and homework, a lot of fun too!     In these sessions and in my regular piano lessons - and even in the handful of his EE/MU 107 classes that I've sat in on, Mr. Boyk has been a wonderfully enthusiastic and effective teacher - one whom I would rate with the very best at Caltech. While ever eager to convey new and fascinating insights into a topic of discussion, he would always listen to what I had to say and the ideas I had, be they right, wrong, or, as not infrequent in long music sessions, merely absurd.
     "I...find myself improving quite substantially as a musician...because of Mr. Boyk. In as much as a lecturer is needed to convey the ideas of, for instance, a branch of mathematics to the students before the students go off and solve problems among themselves, a teacher is of immense importance in musical education. [T]o those with a serious interest in music - and at Caltech, there are many - Mr. Boyk is an ideal "friend, philosopher and guide" to turn to. I can scarce find another person at Caltech to fill that position with as much competence and good humor."

Mark Neidengard '97
"[T]he delightful blend of fine music and stimulating discussion in one of Los Angeles' best-sounding performing venues is irreplaceable. This activity benefits both students and faculty, as well as non-Caltech community members, and is exactly the sort of outreach that a cultured university should offer to its public."

Ryan Patterson '00
"After attending one of these sessions, I was simply excited (this is no exaggeration) about attending future sessions. After the session, I listened to a recording of one of the pieces we had just discussed. I was amazed at how much insight I had gained from the session."

Michael Vanier, Ph.D. '01
"Jim is an incredibly gifted pianist.... He is also a first-rate music teacher. In addition to his work at Caltech, he has published books ("To Hear Ourselves as Others Hear Us", MMB Music; this book received praise from such musicians as Yehudi Menuhin and Andre Watts), numerous articles for both lay and scientific publications, and also gives master classes, some to other piano teachers! Jim's knowledge of the recording process is as profound as his knowledge of piano playing and teaching. He has served as the recording engineer or consultant on a variety of recordings, including works by the LA Philharmonic among others.
     "Jim has a rather unique way of teaching piano. He refuses to make his students work through boring drills and exercises, instead requiring us to play real music from the start.... Jim isn't satisfied if you can play the notes of a piece. You have to be able to play the notes, sing any part of the piece, understand the musical logic of the piece, and understand the mechanics of sound-production on the instrument you're playing. This is demanding, but rewarding. I've never had a music teacher that went to this much trouble.... These sessions are probably the only chance Caltech students will ever have to talk about music informally with top-notch classical musicians (Jim and his invited guests)."

Anonymous Grad Student
"[A]mong my most cherished memories of Caltech. Jim is, of course, a fine musician and--rare at Caltech--a superb teacher. To attend his classes was very enriching for me, not only because of what I learned, but also because they were an oasis of sanity and tranquility in a hectic environment. I have also seen Jim active in the music lab. The hands-on experience--conceive, build, test, and report on equipment--is unique at Caltech. I wish I had had this experience in college."

Robert J. Sides '98
"[O]ften the highlight of my week."

Dan Rogstad '00
"The great thing about the opportunities Boyk presents is that they are unique.... [T]here are other ways to get involved with music here, but none are quite like the opportunities provided by Boyk."

Jeff Greif, Ph.D. '82
"During my time as a graduate student in physics... I participated in many campus musical activities.... Only two, Boyk's class and a chamber music program supervised by Alice and Eleanor Schonfeld (from USC), stretched my creative and interpretive abilities as a serious amateur musician and helped me to produce more coherent and communicative performances. The Schonfelds' program, while wonderful in its way, had an autocratic, "you must play it like this" style reflecting their traditional European musical upbringing. It had meaning only for the performers.
     "Boyk's class, on the other hand, involved performers and non-musician listeners thinking and hearing for themselves, forming and articulating their own impressions in different ways according to their training and modes of thought. Each session's musical activity and wide-ranging discussion stimulated (sometimes) musically untrained but analytical scientist-auditors to make stunningly on-target comments about aspects of the sound and the score the musicians often had never thought of, provided a frequent experience of live music to Jim's EE107 students for whom it was unfamiliar, and drew in others from the community who came just to listen.
     "The performers, whether they were beginners or professionals trying out a program before a recital, could, if their minds were open enough, integrate fresh ideas from all present, and extremely detailed critical suggestions from Jim Boyk into their interpretations. Often, the performers would try out a passage several different ways according to suggestions from Boyk or members of the audience, giving direct feedback to both the player and commentator about whether the suggestions "worked." Some of the suggestions turned out to be plausible but wrong, others hair-brained, and others seemingly hair-brained but dead on. Often neither Boyk nor any listener was an expert in playing the instruments involved. This was an advantage in many cases, since the coaching concentrated on the effect to be achieved, leaving to the performer (and his or her instrumental instructors) how to bring it about, if it was possible at all.
     "Boyk's acute sensitivity to the details of a performance, their relationships to what is written down in the music, and their connection to the overall effect make him a superb coach, able to temper his comments to the performer's level of receptiveness and technical ability to put them to use. His willingness to apply this process out loud to himself over a period of several weeks as he learned a new piece or revived a familiar one after laying it aside for a few years were an inspiring example for those trying to find the heart of a piece and the interpretive approaches that expose it to an audience, and to solve the technical problems that get in the way. For a non-musician, this is a rare, possibly unique, opportunity to follow the stages of assembling a moving performance from the rawest beginnings, mainly because few musicians can make the process interesting without an immediate polished performance to sustain it."

Jean-Paul Revel, Dean of Students
"It is a really powerful experience to have someone as dedicated and enthusiastic as Jim do this. There are always 15-20 people in attendance, mostly students, some staff and the occasional Prof. The renewed appreciation that one gains for the pieces he showcases and the increased awareness that he manages to elicit are a rare and truly valuable experience. A few weeks ago he presented a concert which had been advertised outside. My wife and I decided to go and arrived 15 minutes early believing ourselves to be in plenty of time to have first row seats. In fact we just managed to squeeze into Dabney. We stood through the first piece and it is only at the end of the concert that I managed to find a seat when a few people left. The enthusiasm with which Boyk was received was extraordinary. I am convinced that the good will generated by this talented artist and the positive light that he projects on Caltech could truly be worth many times the investment."

Jay A. Labinger, Administrator of the Beckman Institute
"Jim is nothing if not passionate about his art, and makes his passion intensely visible every time he interacts with students and others who attend his performances and weekly sessions. It is obvious from watching and listening to many of the attendees that they are significantly affected. His last formal concert, which had a turnaway crowd, received an overwhelmingly positive response. But perhaps the most important aspect of Jim's position at Caltech... is his dual role linking the sciences and the arts, by serving both as lecturer in EE and artist in residence."

Stephen J. Weininger, Visiting Professor of Chemistry, Visiting Professor of History of Science
"[E]normously enjoyable and stimulating. Of far greater significance is the enthusiastic reaction they invariably evoke among students, who make up the majority of those present. [C]ombines a receptive and informal atmosphere with an intellectually and musically provocative approach that has impressed me as uniquely effective. In addition, Jim's technical capabilities add to his credibility with students and provide them with a role model who can function at a professional level in both the sciences and the arts."

Will Kazez, IBM Research Fellow in mathematics
"I was astounded by the quality of the people that make Caltech what it is. I'm thinking now of the public lectures given by Feynman, of physical education classes taught by Oshima (who is one of the most famous people in the world of karate), and of James Boyk's weekly music sessions in Dabney Hall. These sessions were wonderful. You never knew ahead of time if he was going to take the piano apart, give a recital, try to learn a new piece of music, bring a famous musician, or give a piano lesson. Whatever it was, it was interesting, and I did my best not to miss a meeting. (Just to brag, Boyk once gave me a public lesson. I did pretty well, though to be honest, I was only allowed to play a single note five times). This may be only a part of what Boyk offers as an artist in residence, but he does it incredibly well. He brings a very broad background in engineering, recording, and piano technology, adds it to what he offers as a performer, and delivers it to a broad and appreciative audience of students and faculty.
     "Even though it is possible to make a long list of Boyk's accomplishments as a performer and author and engineer and teacher, it might not capture what he does best. Particularly with students, he grabs their attention, he keeps their interest, and he inspires them...."

Margaret Thornhill, D.M.A., professional clarinetist
"Although ostensibly a separate offering from the EE class which Boyk also teaches, the performance class has, in fact, served as a reinforcement for the EE class: the live performances provide raw material, a kind of optional laboratory. I've been a guest, with my instrument, in "Projects in Music and Science" on numerous occasions. Invariably, it seems as if the students in that class, with their typically limited prior exposure to live music, understand best what it is "about" after dropping in on the Wednesday class, where their often skewed assumptions about what performing artists do (emote, intuit, press buttons?) or what live music sounds like (for example, considerably louder and "different" from any recorded sound) is debunked for good, and they have a window on how hard we musicians work to understand and reveal the spirit behind the world of symbols.
     "The Performance class is unique in that it provides a very intimate opportunity -- unheard of in my experience as a music professional-- for non-performers, often people who know very little about music to become part of a developing musical experience. Most often that class is a live performance, by Boyk or some guest artist. Invariably, comments are invited from the audience about particular aspects of the performance. The comments are all taken seriously. The performers consider the comments, reshaping what they are doing. They try out the suggested changes. The whole class reacts to the result. Where else does such an encounter occur? The closest thing I can think of is a conservatory master class, where all the participants are performers of the same instrument as the featured artist; but no conservatory teacher would ever dream of letting some physicist who doesn't even read music critique her performance! The beauty of this approach is that when the critical comments are off base, everyone else can hear it: if it doesn't work, the causes of that effect are explained. Why wasn't that successful? Everyone has a chance to answer. This format really seems to gratify the experimentalists who drop in. The perception of some of the scientists and engineers often stuns the visiting musicians, who aren't accustomed to entertaining intelligent suggestions from their audience.
     "I always thought Boyk's Wednesday class created a marvelous mix of the Caltech community and the Pasadena community: a perfect "town and gown" encounter. Of course, there are other, more formal opportunities for the students and the community to come together: the Watson lectures, the Dabney and Coleman series, but these aren't social or intellectual mixers, in any real sense. The Wednesday class is a participatory class, where a music lover from outside the Institute can jawbone with a math professor or an EE grad student about what they think Bach or Schubert should sound like, whether or not the piano lid should be open or shut, whether or not a chamber ensemble is acoustically balanced and why, what makes one cello sound better than another and how that affects the music being played on it. It also gives music professionals a chance to meet people from the Institute.
     "I was intrigued by Boyk's extraordinary, high-profile personality: an acclaimed expert in one field (piano) who seems so conversant with most areas of science that he can bridge the language—and thinking—gap that often exists between people in different disciplines. I cannot think of another professional musician who shares this ability...."

Ellen G. Strauss, Senior Research Associate in Biology
"This program is one of the best-kept secrets in the Caltech Community, and one of the most valuable! Although I neither perform nor study music formally I have learned a great deal from this program, and enjoyed it immensely. It is a welcome change from our daily grind of science."