Thursday, September 12, 2013

Kaplansky sings Kaplansky (and Pi)

     I first knew of mathematician Irving Kaplansky (1917-2006) through his monograph, Infinite Abelian Groups -- it was one of my texts for a graduate seminar (with Gene Levy) at the University of Oklahoma in the 1960s.  Later I knew Kaplansky as a songwriter, author of new lyrics for "That's Entertainment."  Kaplansky's adaptation, "That's Mathematics," dedicated to his former student, math-musician-songwriter Tom Lehrer, and to his daughter, singer Lucy Kaplansky, is given below.
      In 1999, in Science News, writer Ivars Peterson (now Director of Publications for the MAA -- Mathematical Association of America) wrote an article about Kaplansky's songwriting in which he mentions  his daughter, Lucy Kaplansky, a singer who frequently performs her father's songs.  A YouTube recording of Lucy singing "The Song of Pi" (in which there is a correspondence between musical notes and the first fourteen digits of pi) is available here.  (Lyrics for "The Song of  Pi" and information about the correspondence are available in Peterson's article.)

That's Mathematics     by Irving Kaplansky

The fun when two parallels meet
Or a group with an action discrete
Or the thrill when some decimals repeat,
That's mathematics.
A nova, incredibly bright,
Or the speed of a photon of light,
Andrew Wiles, proving Fermat was right,
That's mathematics.
The odds of a bet when you're rolling two dice,
The marvelous fact that four colors suffice,
Slick software setting a price,
And the square on the hypotenuse
Will bring us a lot o' news.
In genes a double helix we see
And we cheer when an algebra's free
And in fact life's a big PDE.
We'll be on the go
When we learn to grow with mathematics.

With Lagrange everyone of us swears
That all things are the sums of four squares,
Like as not, three will do but who cares.
That's mathematics.
Sporadic groups are the ultimate bricks,
Finding them took some devilish tricks,
Now we know—there are just 26.
That's mathematics.
The function of Riemann is looking just fine,
It may have its zeros on one special line.
This thought is yours and it's mine.
We may soon learn about it
But somehow I doubt it.
Don't waste time asking whether or why
A good theorem is worth a real try,
Go ahead—prove transcendence of pi;
Of science the queen
We're all of us keen on mathematics.

Thanks to Greg Coxson for his ongoing practice of sending me links between poetry and mathematics -- in particular, here, for alerting me to Lucy Kaplansky's "Song of Pi" video.

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