Science songster interview #4: Jay Clark

Below is our interview with Jay Clark, yet another participant in the NIMBioS Songwriter-in-Residence program. Stay tuned for more interview with NON-NIMBioS science songsters!

Jay Clark

SAS&M: DESCRIBE YOUR CURRENT WORK AS A SONGWRITER/MUSICIAN IN A SENTENCE.

JC: My current work as a songwriter is simply writing about my life experiences and issues that matter to me.

SAS&M: TO WHAT EXTENT HAVE SCIENCE AND MATH BEEN IMPORTANT IN YOUR LIFE?

JC: I have a BS, MS, & PhD in Wildlife Ecology with a minor in Statistics, thus, pretty important!

SAS&M: WHAT FIRST PROMPTED YOU TO THINK THAT COMBINING MATH/SCIENCE AND MUSIC MIGHT BE A GOOD IDEA?

JC: Lou Gross, director at NIMBioS and long-time sound guy at The Laurel Theatre in Knoxville, had been talking about combining the two for a songwriter-in-residence program at NIMBioS for years. Although I implement a lot of conservation issues into my music, I never considered combining science and music directly until Lou brought it up a number of years ago.

SAS&M: WHAT SPECIAL CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES ARE THERE IN WRITING SCIENCE- AND MATH-BASED SONGS, AS OPPOSED TO WRITING, SAY, LOVE SONGS?

JC: The challenge for me was simply fitting fine details into a 3-5 minute song and not completely oversimplifying the topic. However, on the other end of the spectrum, I was cautious not to make it uninteresting for the non-science listener.

SAS&M: HOW DID YOU SPEND YOUR TIME AS A NIMBIOS SONGWRITER IN RESIDENCE?

JC: I spent an average of 10-12 hours per week at NIMBioS and attended a number of seminars and sat in on 2 working groups. I tried to use the office time to research potential topics online. However, I must admit that most of my writing was done at home (an “office” isn’t the most inspiring place for me to write).

SAS&M: WHAT WILL YOU REMEMBER MOST VIVIDLY FROM YOUR TIME AS A NIMBIOS SONGWRITER IN RESIDENCE?

JC: The interactions with the post-docs and NIMBioS staff were great times. I felt like part of the group and they embraced the idea of having a songwriter-in-residence.

SAS&M: DO YOU FEEL PARTICULARLY PROUD OF ANY PARTICULAR SCIENCE/MATH SONG(S) THAT YOU’VE WRITTEN? WHY?

JC: I am pretty happy with 2 of the songs that I wrote while at NIMBioS. My goal was to write songs that I would actually play at my regular shows, thus I didn’t want to just come up with something to satisfy my obligations. One song in particular, “The Last Hemlock”, seems to really touch people and the story that I tell prior to singing it deals with how we have introduced a number of exotic species that wreak havoc on our ecosystems.

SAS&M: WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE SCIENCE/MATH MUSICAL PIECE OR ARTIST, NOT INCLUDING YOUR OWN WORK? WHY?

JC: Well, I don’t know many other works. The “Science for the People” song that RB Morris recorded during his time at NIMBioS was a good one.

SAS&M: SOME PEOPLE THINK THAT MUSIC CAN BE A VALUABLE TEACHING TOOL, WHILE OTHERS FIND SUCH NOTIONS LAUGHABLE. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THIS?

JC: I think music can play a role in almost any situation. Everyone listens to music and I would think that a catchy 3-5 minute tune has just as much potential as a 30-minute PowerPoint lecture. However, I think that the combination of both has lots of potential. For example, if I was giving a 30-minute talk on the evolution of how we choose our mates, I believe I could get a “lay audience’s” attention better by introducing and singing my song, “Sexual Selection”, than I would if I immediately launched into a slide show. The simplification of the topic, and humor for that matter, via song could certainly be used as a tool to grab attention and interest about a topic.

SAS&M: ANY OTHER COMMENTS?

JC: I really enjoyed my time at NIMBioS and have had two other folks in the science fields contact me about writing songs for their causes/interests.

This entry was posted in classroom, interviews, undergrad bio ed. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *