Koochaki captivated by "Calculus: the Musical"

Meredith Hritz

By Sebastian Koochaki, ’10, Contributor

This past Wednesday—Oct. 7, 2009—CCDS Upper School students and faculty were treated to a rousing rendition of Calculus: The Musical!, a two-person play exploring the “integral” ideas and discoveries to ont of mankind’s greatest mathematical art forms.  Sean Powell and Jae Boley from the Know Theatre of Cincinnati led students and teachers through the gritty grime of mathematics to some of the most enlightening concepts of Newton, Leibniz, Riemann, and hundreds of other mathematicians of the past three centuries, all through the power of song and dance.

Written by Marc Gutman and Sadie Bowman, who found that setting calculus’s most complex ideas to music helped their students better understand them, Calculus: the Musical! has been tantalizing audiences of all ages since 2006.  Recently, Gutman and Bowman passed on their roles to husband-and-wife duo Powell and Boley of the Know Theater, which is now planning a nationwide tour in 2010 to bring the magic of calculus to everyone. Their show at CCDS was one of their last dress rehearsals before hitting the road.

Having heard rave reviews from Mr. Bob Plummer and Mr. Sam Tumolo of the CCDS Mathematics Department, my hopes were high going into the show. Technical glitches aside, I was very impressed not only by the accuracy of the math and the minute attention to detail but also by the occasional offhand, unexpected jokes that made it all the funnier. In between the vagaries of high school life, Calculus: the Musical! was a delightful change of pace.   The musical succeeded in mashing together a quirky sense of humor with tedious math.   Terrible German accents, a little Sir Isaac Newton action figure, and an eclectic range of song styles could have kept me entertained for an infinite amount of time—too bad it only felt like an “infinitesimal.” I could not help but leave the theatre singing to myself, “Integral from A to B; Anti-derivative. Take the value at B subtract the value at A,” to the tune of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Under the Bridge.”

Now, AB and BC Calculus students, unfortunately there is no longer an excuse for not getting a “5” on that upcoming AP exam.  I hope you will all be singing the “Chain Rule” to Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools” or “L’Hôpital’s Rule” to some classic Bonnie Tyler come test day—coming from a veteran, I assure you, it will help you.

Through catchy, popular tunes, the show brings a fresh, new perspective to an old, archaic subject, hopefully bringing the fun of math to the masses. Calculus: the Musical! just may turn out to be the most exciting things to happen to math since the last Mersenne prime was discovered with 12, 978,189 digits—a very tough act to follow. For lyrics and more information on the show, visit http://www.calculusthemusical.com.

Photo by Ilana Habib.