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Irwin Math Teacher Harmonizes Love of Music, Stats in Book

110905267-1Main Line Life asked me to do a story on Edward Gardner’s book because they were interested in having a feature story on the link between math and music.

I really enjoyed meeting this teacher because I have such an avid interest in, and knowledge of music. It reminded me once again that even the most opposing subjects are often related and connected somehow.

Psychology calls them “flashbulb memories.” They instantaneously return us to another place and time. Music can 87559620have this kind of effect.

For Rosemont’s Edward Gardner, mathematician and musicologist recently turned author, “Rock Around the Clock” is clearly a transporting song. Like the time-traveling DeLorean in the film Back to the Future, the tune returns Gardner to 1955, the year he was graduating from Nether Providence high school.[pullquote align=”left|center|right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”30%”]”I was able to use my feeling for mathematics to bring about the statistical results in this book” about songs.[/pullquote]

The song’s arrival on the music scene symbolized “the beginning of the rock era,” he said, a significant milestone in musical history.

RockgigAs it was climbing the charts and forging its way in the world of sound, Gardner was planning his own path in mathematics and becoming curious about a gap in popular music’s past that he would revisit in the future.

The song, like his first book, incorporates his lifelong passions of music and numbers. “The only connection,” between the two disciplines, he said, is that “I was able to use my feeling for mathematics to bring about the statistical results in this book” about songs.

Popular Songs of the 160053200Twentieth Century – A Charted History, vol. 1: Chart Detail and Encyclopedia 1900-1949, scheduled to hit bookstores this month, contains monthly song charts that have never been published before and includes “complete detail on writers, publishers,” and “artists who popularized the songs.”

Gardner, mathematics teacher at Agnes Irwin School in Rosemont for 30 years, said the book culminates a 25-year research project he began in an effort to create popular music charts for the early 1900s. He initially noticed their absence in his teens, he said, when he began collecting and inquiring about previous popular music. “Prior to 1945,” he said, “there were no popularity charts that would rank the songs and] not much in the474324339 way of sales figures.”

So he began compiling music history data and vintage recordings, developing a hard and soft copy of popular music’s past, an ever-continuing quest.

153703048He said he was able to determine song popularity by perusing music trade periodicals and music history books. “Through the use of mathematics and computers,” he said he approximated “the charts that would have been” for the first half of the century.

His efforts resulted in his book and a massive musical collection that can be found on vinyl, tapes and compact discs. “I have over 200 miles of recording tape where I’ve recorded the majority of my 40,000 songs,” he said. Read more…


Reprinted with permission from Main Line Life