Inquiries into the early years of SJI

Sunday, September 8, 2013

A cappella SJI: sheet music from Everett Howe

From E. Howe's a cappella version of SJI
(Click to enlarge)
Many years ago I worked with a woman whose son was a math prodigy. When he was in grade school he and a friend would spend recess (for example) determining the height of a pole by calculations based upon the length of its shadow. This is what they preferred to do, what they enjoyed doing, while other kids played baseball or tag. One year he wanted to go to summer camp, to math camp. The questionnaire he had to fill out asked the question "What musical instrument do you play?" Note, the question was not "Do you play a musical instrument?" but "Which instrument do you play?" Which, of course, suggests an intimate correlation between mathematics and music.

Still, there are many mathematicians who are not particularly interested in music. There are those who are interested only in the mathematical problems presented by music, not in the music itself. And there are those who are both born mathematicians and natural musicians.

Which brings me to Everett Howe. Mr. Howe is a mathematician, a graduate of Caltech and of the University of California in Berkeley, who has written papers with titles like, oh, "Characteristic Polynomials of Automorphisms of Hyperelliptic Curves," or "On the Distribution of Frobenius Eigenvalues of Principally-polarized Abelian Varieties." He plays the piano. He is starting to learn clarinet. He sings in an a cappella group. He writes music.

"St. James Infirmary" has been a touchstone for Mr. Howe. He wrote, "My interest in 'St. James Infirmary' led me to arrange a choral a cappella version of the song . . . and, surprisingly enough, the a cappella group that I belong to will be singing this arrangement in October as part of a church service."

Mr. Everett Howe has been kind enough to share the link to his 2013 arrangement of this song, which was first recorded 86 years ago, which is Lord-knows-how-old, and which continues to shift and change well into the 21st century. So, to read the sheet music, here is the link to: Everett Howe's a cappella arrangement of St. James Infirmary. Thank you, Everett.

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