The real meaning of what we produce and do
Tonight my wife and I attended a lecture performance on Dimitri Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 8 as a part of the “What Makes It Great” series offered by Rob Kapilow at the Merkin Concert Hall in New York City. We tend to shy away from twentieth century music because of it dissonance, but we are willing to give it a try, especially when we find an enthusiastic explainer of the music and a first class performance.
Shostakovich lived in Russia under the tyranny of Joseph Stalin in the first half of the twentieth- century. It was a difficult time for him. Russian composers like Stravinsky and Rachmaninoff were leaving Mother Russia and that made Shostakovich mad, for they needed to stay and help Russia while keeping the rich classical music culture alive. On the other hand Stalin denounced Shostakovich’s music and he was always living on the edge, fearful of the Gulag and ostracism.
However, Shostakovich managed to weave into his music themes of freedom and triumph, but was it for the State or for the People? Much controversy surrounds his efforts to “hide” message in his music and much has been written about him in this regard. Kapilow demonstrated the borrowed themes from Shostakovich’s earlier powerful works in the string quartet with the wonderfully able Attacca Quartet, thereby illustrating themes, passages, tempos, and both delicacy and fury as he lectured and then they played the entire piece for the audience to hear the work in its entirety.
So while it was not clear exactly what Shostakovich’s intention was in placing themes, quoting from his more triumphant works, and referring to a favorite song of Lenin for example, what was clear is that the composer wanted his audience to feel his struggle and to think about the issues of the time and the government under which they lived.
While x’s and y’s may not be as important as freedom we too need to speak our minds, to share our views, and hopefully not be confusing or have to offer hidden messages. Rather, we need to make it very clear what we believe is our intention. In our case at SIMIODE our intention is that faculty can and should engage their students in an act of building a mathematical model BEFORE embarking on technique and theory of differential equations in order to fully motivate students.mus
We can quote from the literature of problem-based learning, from inquiry-based learning, from active learning as much as we wish, but the bottom line is to just say what we believe and that is that a modeling-first approach to teaching differential equations is something worth doing and all colleagues can succeed at this approach. They can bring application exercises from the back of the exercises in the text to the forefront and use them to motivate. They can find Modeling Scenarios in the SIMIODE community to motivate students inquiries into differential equations or invent their own (and hopefully publish then in SIMIODE). But in all cases we urge faculty to try modeling first for themselves and as the Alka Seltzer ad of years ago said, “Try it. You’ll like it.”