Music and science may seem an unlikely pairing, but history tells a different story: Albert Einstein, for example—famous for his theory of general relativity—was also an accomplished violinist, having fallen in love with Mozart’s sonatas at age 13. And French composer and pianist Camille Saint-Saëns was also an avid amateur astronomer, frequently contributing to his local astronomy society’s newsletter and regularly attending meetings.
Closer to home in time and space, College of Music supporters J. McKim (Kim) and Nancy Malville have successfully bridged careers in the sciences with a shared commitment to the musical arts.
Though Kim’s path took him to California Institute of Technology where he earned a physics degree, followed by a doctorate in astrophysics from CU Boulder, his lifelong interest in music was sparked in high school. He took piano lessons and worked for the San Francisco Opera as a supernumerary actor. “I was a toreador in 'Carmen,' a Russian Orthodox priest in 'Boris Godunov' and stuff like that,” he says. “To be in the midst of a grand opera performance, standing feet away from the major action going on, is really extraordinary.”
Similarly, when Nancy picked up the viola in 7th grade, she fell in love with the instrument. “By the time I was in 8th grade, I was playing in the local town symphony…and they were pretty hard on violists,” she says. “I was put in a situation I wasn’t ready for, but it was a good growth opportunity.”
Nancy also grew up surrounded by science when her father worked at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. “There are many musicians I've played with, especially there, who were scientists and physicists,” she remembers.
Kim chimes in, “We know a number of physicists who had the choice of excelling in music or science."
Nancy continued playing viola in the College of Wooster orchestra while studying chemistry. Upon moving to Boulder, she joined the Boulder Philharmonic and played under the direction of the late Antonia Brico and David Burge, as well as retired College of Music faculty member Oswald “Ozzi” Lehnert. Nancy also played under the direction of CU Boulder Professor Emeritus of Music Giora Bernstein. “Until he got the violins to do something the way he wanted, he’d make them do it over and over until they got it right,” she says, fondly recalling Bernstein's artistic style. “He was a perfectionist.”
Nancy went on to achieve a doctorate in physical anthropology and became an adjunct affiliate faculty member at CU Boulder. Meanwhile, alongside the couple's professional passion for science, their love for music endured.
As avid supporters of the College of Music and the Takács Quartet, the Malvilles were offered the opportunity to name two practice rooms. They chose to honor Bernstein and Geraldine Walther, former Takács Quartet violist and retired viola professor.
“We thought of Bernstein because he founded the Colorado Music Festival," explains Kim. "In doing so, he played a major role in the cultural life of Boulder and beyond, but people don’t seem to remember him as much as they should.
“And Geri was such an extraordinary violist that we wanted to do this for her as she was retiring. She said this was the nicest thing that’s ever happened to her.”
The Malvilles hope that music students will continue to be inspired by these remarkable musicians whose contributions to the College of Music and our community live on. “We know that students don’t practice every minute they're in a practice room," concludes Kim. "We figure they stop to take breaks and that they'll look around and hopefully be inspired to learn about the extraordinary people the practice rooms are named after.”