Engineering and music share common threads
Mike Violette plays guitar annually at the EMC Symposium.
Violette's engineering background helps him understand his music. "There's a strong connection between music, audio, and sound. There's certainly a technical part to music, in understanding chord progressions and key signatures. It helps to have a technical mind. Sound pressure levels and harmonics, things that you run into in a lab are part of music, but music definitely sits in a different part of your brain. You get a different sense of satisfaction from solving a technical problem than from making a nice riff, but they're both satisfying."
Kenneth Wyatt keeps the rhythm of the EMC Society Band.
Multi-instrumentalist Jeff Silberberg has become the leader of the EMC Society Band where he's played guitar, bass, keyboards, and soprano sax. An EMC engineer with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration since 1972, Silberberg drove his own stage equipment-at his own expense and without air conditioning-from Maryland to Florida in July 2010. He expects to drive his equipment to Pittsburgh in 2012, which is a much shorter drive.
Silberberg started with clarinet in the fourth grade. The cathedral ceilings in his home let the music resonate as he played for his relatives. In Sixth grade, his friend convinced him to play clarinet in the school talent show and he's been performing ever since, moving up to first chair, first clarinet in middle school.
Jeff Silberberg leads the EMC Society Band playing guitar, bass, keyboards, and sax.
In high school, Silberberg had to audition for the school band. He made the band, but was now second chair, second clarinet and wasn't playing the melodies anymore. "When the school bought a bassoon, I was first in line to get it and because there was the only one," he said. "I played with the school band and the school orchestra. The transition from clarinet was easy."
Silberberg started a rock band with friends in high school. He played guitar, which he had never really stopped. "I started playing folk songs like Peter, Paul, and Mary, but when Bob Dylan went electric, so did I." His band played teen dances and played on the local UHF TV station. He kept playing through college, going home on weekends to practice.
Like so many part-time musicians, Silberberg gave up music upon getting married, selling his guitar. But, he missed music too much and eventually bought another one and started playing rhythm guitar in a band. When the band members decided to look for gigs, they had to give up playing southern rock and blues in favor of top 40 to get bookings. One week before the first audition, the lead guitarist left the band because he didn't like top 40. Jeff had to learn all the lead parts in a week. The band played weddings after that and did so for 26 years despite many personnel changes.
Silberberg learned keyboard and sax out of necessity. Playing top 40 songs at weddings means you have to sound like the record. When a song called for a keyboard, he learned enough to play the song. The same applied to his learning the sax. Now he plays "G-Bop" by Kenny G every year at the EMC Symposium.
Silberberg considered studying music in college but decided that he could not only make a living as an electrical engineer, he could also learn how the boxes he used for music actually worked. His engineering background helped him understand audio and harmonics. "There's a definite connection between math, engineering, and music," he noted.
My musical journey began in high school when some friends needed a bass player so I learned to play and continued with bands through college. Here's a newspaper clipping of my band taken in July 1979. I'm second fron the left, playing a Gibson Ripper bass. After college, I switched to guitar and took lessons for a year, but then didn't play for about 15 years. I started again in 2001 and continue today. In 2006, I started writing songs about life as an engineer. You can find them at here where I've played "The Measurement Blues" and Watkins' favorite, "The Lab in the Corner."
Wyatt's experience playing for a religious service certainly "struck a chord" with me. After playing guitar for just a few months, someone asked me to play the music for a lay-led service that was ten days away. I knew most of the melodies and lyrics, but not the chords. Fortunately, I had an experienced song leader to coach me and I played from sheet music. "Everyone knows the songs," she said. "You just have to get them started. Most of the songs are in minor keys so if you get lost, just play an A-minor chord. Sooner or later, you'll be back in sync." She was right.
T&MW Senior Technical Editor Martin Rowe (second from left) played a Gibson Ripper bass with his band in 1979.