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Audience-suggested improv is tradition for physicist/pianist's participatory recital

Dan Goodman
Dan Goodman

In 1983, Dan Goodman (Ph.D. 1989) introduced MIT to the idea of improvising music to audience-suggested themes and composers, a concert format he's continued at MIT every couple of years. Goodman, now a visiting scientist at the Plasma Science and Fusion Center and co-founder and president of Electron Solutions in Somerville, will present his eighth MIT "Participatory Piano Recital" on Sunday, Jan. 20 at 1:30 p.m. in Killian Hall.

For the second half of the concert, Goodman will provide lined music paper and pencils to audience members, who then suggest themes and/or composers for the pianist to improvise upon. Some write out original compositions for him to tackle. Depending on audience whimsy and creativity, one may hear Mozartian variations on "Jailhouse Rock" or a Gershwinesque "Moonlight Sonata."

Folk songs and children's tunes seem to work best, says Goodman, "because more of the audience can recognize the tune." In 1989, he said, one audience member suggested the theme from game show "Jeopardy." "The tune lent itself well to improvisation," he said, "because it has recognizable rhythmic, harmonic and melodic elements."

The first half of the performance will include more traditional piano works by Chopin, Mozart, Brahms, Prokofiev and Scott Joplin.

A 1989 concert review in The Tech described Goodman as "musician extraordinaire, piano concerto soloist, previously symphony orchestra first cellist, chamber player ... and physicist as well." He also performs folk music on accordion and can be seen in the 1991 movie "Once Around," accompanying a serenading Richard Dreyfus, who plays the flamboyant and irrepressible salesman Sam Sharpe.

For more information on the concert, call MIT Hillel at x3-2982.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on January 16, 2002.

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