One of my goals with this blog is to help spread the word about the fabulous field of Operations Research (OR). I’m saddened, however, by how much the average person still hates mathematics and sees it as being of no use outside the classroom. Popular movies and TV shows (with very few exceptions) don’t portray math positively either (see, for example, this post by my former Carnegie Mellon classmate Abraham Flaxman).
Why do most people think it’s OK to hate math? I bet that if someone came on TV and said “I hate History” it would be a big deal, and critics would promptly jump in to provide explanations about the merits of the field. But hating math is commonplace; it’s “normal”. I beg to differ. I believe that it’s just a matter of teaching it differently and showing students, from the very beginning, all the wonderful things that math can accomplish. This is a crucial change that needs to begin in high school (if not earlier).
So I decided to write a song. More precisely, I decided to write alternative lyrics for an existing song. After all, everyone likes music, right? The song I chose to hijack was “Hallelujah”, written by Leonard Cohen in the 80’s. It’s a beautiful song that has been recorded by many different artists, the late Jeff Buckley being among the most popular ones (here’s a YouTube video). Personally, I prefer Allison Crowe’s interpretation because it’s a little more dramatic.
Before I show you the lyrics, a few comments are in order:
- Although the song is about OR, I use the word “math” throughout because it is a more recognizable word. Besides, OR is about using math to improve decision making, and part of my goal is to help people realize that (there’s a shout out to INFORMS at the end :-)
- I decided to refer to math as “she” because (i) it creates a parallel to the “she” in the original lyrics; (ii) this kind of anthropomorphism has been used before; (iii) it sounds more melodic and poetic than using “it”. However, if you are offended by that, or think this is politically incorrect, just replace “she/her” with “it/its”.
- I’ve put the original Hallelujah lyrics side-by-side with my lyrics to make it easier for you to sing it. I chose the words carefully so that the cadence/tempo would remain the same. Trust me. I’ve tried it myself and it works.
- I only have the lyrics so far (no recording) because I’m not a good singer, and I haven’t found anyone to sing it yet. I’d like to have a YouTube video clip with the lyrics as subtitles and a photo slide show, in sync with lyrics, showing examples of OR success stories.
- I’ve included a few footnote questions about subtle references that appear in the lyrics (OK, I admit, most of them are easy). I figured it would be a fun little quiz anyway. If you know the answers, write them down in the comments below.
So, without further ado, here it is: Math’s in Hiding. Enjoy! And let me know what you think. I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Going back to the topic of who could record this: ideally it should be someone who is familiar with OR. Well, I just happen to know the perfect person. Her name is Lucia. In addition to being a very talented singer and song writer (her debut album was released last year and she recently sang the national anthem at a Marlins game), she was my student in the MBA Optimization class a few years ago. Wouldn’t it be great to have an OR-themed concert at an INFORMS meeting with free tickets distributed to the general public?
Regardless of whether my lyrics are good or bad, I believe that songs like this are another way for us to try to plant the seed of love-for-math in the heart of future generations. At least it’s worth a try.