Concepts familiar from grade-school algebra have broad ramifications in computer science.
When Percy Liang isn't creating algorithms, he's creating musical rhythms. Liang, a senior majoring in computer science and minoring in music and also a student in the Master of Engineering program, will present an Advanced Music Performance piano recital today (March 17) at 5 p.m. in Killian Hall.
Liang, who went to high school in Arizona, has been playing piano since the age of eight and won top prize in the 1999 and 2000 Phoenix Young Musicians Competition. Piano music was his sole musical interest through high school, but once at MIT he began expanding his horizons, playing in chamber music groups and experimenting with singing, he said.
"I even found myself as a sailor in a Gilbert & Sullivan production of 'Ruddigore,'" said Liang. While these endeavors were "much fun," he says, "pure piano music still remains at the top of my list."
Liang admitted that fitting his piano playing into a busy academic schedule can be "very ad hoc," and that his work at a computer keyboard will sometime interrupt his sessions at the piano keyboard for several days. But when a recital looms, "I tend to sit down and play for five hours straight, or until my fingers start to hurt, whichever comes first."
Playing music, he says, involves "simply playing from start to end without stopping to fix things," while practicing ideally involves "taking a piece apart one section at a time and drilling certain passages until they're perfect, or at least almost perfect," Liang said.
"There is an seductive form of playing where I just go through a piece, emotionally indulging in its beauty without thinking about getting the phrasing, the articulation or even the notes right," he said. "Though enjoyable, doing this is probably not all that helpful. Practicing actually is satisfying to me, especially when I can manage to make a passage impeccable and play it with ease."
These hours of practice will culminate in the Killian concert, when Liang will play Mozart's sonata in C major (K. 330), two pieces from "Doubles" by Professor Peter Child ("Three Chinese Songs" and "Tango"), and Liszt's sonata in B minor.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 17, 2004.