At the Corner of Music and Math

Brian Reid '17

Brian Reid ’17 

Brian Reid ’17 is a varsity swimmer, ROTC cadet, pianist/vocalist/composer and double major in music and mathematics who taught English in Cambodia last summer. Below he discusses that experience as well as his love of sailing and fishing, his fascination with theoretical math and the composer he’d most like to meet.


Mathematics and music (composition concentration).

Clubs and organizations:

Varsity swimming, ROTC, the Octals and admissions office (student interviewer).


Benjamin Rush Scholarship, U.S. Army ROTC scholarship, Dean’s List and Centennial Conference academic honor roll.

Favorite book:

American Sniper by Chris Kyle.

Favorite movie:

The Sandlot.

On choosing a major:

I decided to be a math major because of a concept I was introduced to in a calculus class at Dickinson. It’s called Gabriel’s horn. Gabriel’s horn is the 3-D shape we see when the curve y=1/x is rotated around the x-axis. The resulting shape has a finite volume but an infinite surface area. In other words, you could fill the horn with paint, but it’s impossible to cover the outside with paint. That kind of scenario makes little sense in real life, but the numbers make perfect sense. This intersection between numbers and the physical world fascinated me, and I wanted to continue with math.

As for music, composition allows me to be creative and express myself in a unique way that I enjoy. Additionally, music theory is really an analytical process, just like math. The two majors are a lot more closely related than most people think.

On choosing Dickinson:

Dickinson was really the perfect match for me. I wanted a small school with a host ROTC program and a wide range of challenging academic departments. I also wanted to continue swimming. That’s a lot to ask for, but Dickinson has it all, and it was an easy decision. Additionally, on my campus visit, I felt extraordinarily welcomed by everyone I met, making me feel at home before I even applied.

Favorite place on campus:

Lane three at the pool.

Favorite Dining Hall food:

Chicken parm.

Favorite professor:

Professor [of Music] Jennifer Blyth is the best professor I’ve had at Dickinson so far. I had her for three semesters of music theory and one semester of piano lessons. She is by far one of the most talented people I have ever met, and she packed Rubendall for her recital last year, yet she is also incredibly humble, approachable and down-to-earth. She pushed me way out of my comfort zone in Music Theory III, and I learned a lot about music and myself as a student.


My two biggest hobbies are sailing and fishing. I bought my first sailboat (a Laser) this summer, and I had a good time taking it out on the lake down the street from my house. I love going out on the Charles River in Boston too. Also, I’ve taken a couple of trips up to New Hampshire to fly-fish the rivers up there. It’s so peaceful and beautiful wading through the water. I can’t get enough of it.

On teaching English in Cambodia:

This past summer I had the amazing opportunity to travel abroad with U.S. Army Cadet Command’s Cultural Understanding and Language Proficiency (CULP) program. About 25 other cadets from around the country and I spent just under a month in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. We taught English classes of all levels to the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and helped them develop their general military skills. On the weekends, we went on cultural-immersion trips to get exposed to more of what Cambodia has to offer. The best trip we took was to Angkor Wat, in Siem Reap. It’s more than 900 years old and is the biggest religious structure in the world. It absolutely blew me away. The beautiful moat, detailed carvings stretching for hundreds of feet and the sheer size of the compound were all stunning.

Overall, the trip was great for my professional development, and it helped emphasize to me the importance of becoming globally educated and being capable of working within a culture vastly different from my own.

If I could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, it would be …

... Milton Babbit. He was an American composer who deeply explored connections between mathematics and musicand used those connections to guide his compositions. Studying his music was really challenging, but I would love to pick his brain.

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Published September 11, 2015