Rarely ever does a physics professor share the stage with a Colombian flutist and a classical pianist, but Professor Mark Battle proved himself capable this past Monday.
The idea for this performance, entitled “National Idioms,” began as a pre-Covid conception meant to take place in Ohio in 2020. Over three years later, it finally took to the stage in Brunswick. As the title suggests, each piece is steeped in the musical motifs of its respective country.
“I realized as I reflected that every one of the pieces was closely tied to their country of origin,” Battle said. “So when I say idioms, what I’m referring to are the compositional techniques and the notes, the harmonies, the rhythmic devices that really tag those pieces to their place of origin.”
Battle has been playing the clarinet since his youth, but it was George Lopez’s arrival at the College as the Robert Beckwith Artist-in-Residence that reinvigorated his love for playing music. At first the pair played together to pass time, but they soon knew that they wanted to perform together as well.
Battle then met flutist Laura Del Sol Jiménez at a dinner, and she became a part of the performance soon after they played together.
“We got together and read the program as a trio, and it fleshed out beautifully,” Battle said. “I was really glad to have her involved because she’s a superb musician and a lovely person, but I think it was also a really important break in the texture of the music. It relieved the monotony of nothing but clarinet and piano full time.”
Audience member Patrick Sullivan ’26 noted the unique experience of witnessing the music of just three instruments on their own.
“I had never seen a performance where there were only three instruments that didn’t include vocals,” he said. “It was really cool to hear just the three specific instruments and really hear each of their parts.”
Battle received a bachelor’s degree in clarinet performance and went on to study physics, a pursuit which led him to his current position on campus. This performance was unique for him as a professor of the physical sciences, and he expressed his gratitude.
“I was very honored and delighted to have that many people show up. And it was really fun to look around and see people I knew of all ages, from students to retirees,” Battle said.
Battle hopes to instill audience members with an emotional understanding that he believes is only possible through music.
“My goal is to bring the silent notations to life as organized sound,” he said. “If I succeed, each listener will hear the notes and experience joy, sorrow, amusement, pain and elation in a way that is unique to that listener with a particular impact that only music can elicit.”
It may seem unexpected for a physics professor to have an understanding of the intense emotional response that can come from music, whether you are performing or listening. However, Battle is not an anomaly, and he referenced the fact that over half of the professors in the physics department are musically inclined as well.
“There are a lot of physicists who play music pretty seriously. I think there’s something in the brain wiring that draws certain people to both. But I just don’t know what it is,” Battle said.
No matter who you are or what your interests are, though, Battle acknowledges the goodness that music can bring about.
“It’s nice to play music. It’s always rewarding, but it’s so much more fun to share it with people.”