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Music and Architecture

                  Last fall when I was looking for classes to fill my schedule with, I started with all of the basics; accounting, economics, operations management, real estate principles, and systems analysis and design. I had a spot open and needed an honors experience, so given the fact that I have zero experience with music and architecture, I chose a class titled “Music and Architecture”. As unfitting as it sounds, this decision aligns well with my initial reason for joining UHP to begin with; I was looking for a platform to expand my comfort zone and study topics outside of the traditional business curriculum.

            The class turned out to be a first-year revival, initially created by Dr. Milligan and recreated years after his retirement by Dr. Eva Floyd. Despite my severe lack of knowledge of either two subjects, I appreciated that Dr. Floyd started off by covering all basic terminologies and concepts so that we all had an equitable and fundamental background. The class worked to draw on multiple comparisons between the two distinct arts of music and architecture.

            We started by identifying some of the key components of both arts, and then comparing which components fit into both categories. Such a list included the following: beat, rhythm, motif, pattern, proportion, contrast, pace, symmetry, repetition, etc. It is an extensive list, but things get more interesting when you dive deeper.

            One of the first concepts we explored was spaces designed for music - and we found an incredible correlation between the style of music in a given location and time period and the architecture styles used. Lighter, frillier music was often met with very ostentatious and thoughtfully detailed architecture - while sharper and more daunting music was meant to match stoic and rudimentary buildings. Was it the music or the architecture, chicken or the egg, that came first? Did humans build because they wanted spaces ideal for pre-existing music, or did humans write music based on what sounded best in the spaces they worked within? It’s a fascinating concept, and I wonder if such an effect is still occurring to this day.

            Another major concept we covered that absolutely blows my mind is the “golden proportion” or “golden rule”. In short, the golden proportion is this naturally occurring “ideal” ratio of 1:1.618, and for whatever reason we see this in multiple aspects of life - from nature, to music, to… you guessed it, architecture. Nowadays architects are aware of this and may design based on the rule, and perhaps composers aware of this rule plan the climax of their pieces based on this rule; but before this ratio was defined mathematically there is no tangible reason that justifies why we would find the golden ratio in ancient architecture or matured compositions… but we do. In the gallery below I added some of my favorite buildings. One shows the Taj Mahal with the golden spiral overlayed on top of it to show how well the proportions of the building align with the golden rule. In another picture, you can see my professionally drawn representation of the piece I anchored my project on. I listened to the piece multiple times, and drew a few iterations to get the proportions correct; when I placed a line under the drawing that represented 61.8% of the piece I was shocked to see that it aligned almost perfectly with the climax! If this isn’t impressive enough, we see the golden ratio in nature too - so there must be an underlying and fundamental force that we do not fully comprehend that shapes what we perceive as appealing.

Another major concept that I enjoyed was the concept of storytelling in both music and architecture. Going along with proportion, rhythm, movement, repetition, contrast and motif, both arts have the ability to portray a mood and as an affect tell a story. Such architecture could include something like a monument; with very solemn colors, stark contrasting and violent movement - monuments have the ability to portray horrific occurrences and commiserate the cynical nature of these occurrences. Music has the same abilities, using slow and eery build ups followed my sharp and busy climaxes that put the listener on edge. Stories of peace or success can be told too, just by changing the values associated with different factors in both arts.

            Those have been some of my favorite concepts covered during the semester, and I would like to thank Dr. Floyd for reinvigorating the class and doing such an excellent job structuring it day-to-day. I had some steep learning curves early on, given that I was the only business student in the room and had no clue what a motif was or how to define a melody, but the content was fascinating and I am extremely glad I decided to step out of my normal field of study and take the time to learn something new!


As you can see, the skinny bottom line goes out 61.8% through the piece and lined up almost perfectly with my drawn representation of the pieces climax. (don't judge too harshly - keep in mind I'm a business major!)