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Steven Rochen

A Piece of Pi

March 8, 2011 at 4:02 AM

Happy Pi Day 2011!

A Piece of Pi - a piece for solo violin (or viola)

A Piece of Pi was written for solo violin to celebrate Pi Day in 2008. The genesis of this piece lay with the Middle School Orchestra at Trinity School, in New York City. Inspired by several dynamic math teachers, the students at the school hold an annual Pi Day celebration on March 14. A student asked if I would compose a piece about pi, or based on pi, in some form. I decided to explore writing a piece and tried several ways to convert the numbers or rhythms into notes. I finally arrived at using twelve chromatic tones, and converted five hundred units of the digiteam into corresponding chromatic scale-tones. To arrive at twelve tones I treated each one that was followed by zero, one or two as ten, eleven and twelve, respectively, and I counted each other zero as a rest. I eventually used only two hundred and twenty decimal places which was the point at which I felt the piece should end. Coincidentally, the music can be played in 3 minutes and 14 seconds. To create a musical piece I was faced with the strictures of using a set of pitches and rests as a framework for composition. I really enjoyed the decisions and challenges involved and I was particularly delighted to find a sequence of notes that John Williams used in his movie score for "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." It was a grouping of pitches used in the film by space aliens to contact humans as a key element of the movie. I couldn't resist highlighting the notes with musical accents as a quote in homage to him. My students were involved by checking and re-checking my conversions and, when I had finished the composition, checked the notes of the piece by re-converting the musical notes back to numbers. In 2008 the piece was performed for separate assemblies of the Middle and Upper Schools as performance art with a math teacher, Christina Harrison, tapping out the numbers on a giant display as the notes were being played. The piece has been presented at the school several more times, most recently at a Math Symposium. It has also appeared on a Doctoral recital at Peabody Conservatory. It will be part of a Pi Day celebration in Poland this year. Since it was dedicated to the Mathematics faculty at Trinity, each member of that department was presented with a recording of the piece and an autographed copy of the sheet music. I am pleased that it has received performances at several other venues in New York over the past few years and I have had many requests for the sheet music both nationally and internationally. The music has been recently been published by Ovation Press - check under my name, Steven Rochen, if you want a copy of the music.


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