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Two cultures

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Science and music

Throughout my life I have been part of two apparently different cultures: the one is scientific, the other musical. People often asks me how I reconcile two areas which seem to be so far apart from each other.

I answer that science and music aren't as far apart as they might seem. My scientific background has often done me great service in analysing pieces of music, and my musical knowledge has always helped me to become a better teacher.

Science towards music

A good piece of music is built like a cathedral: structured as a whole, and structured in its details. In order to perform a piece well, it is equally important to discover both its structure and its emotional content. Indeed, the emotional content is strongly related to the structure. A good analytic training is necessary to discover the structure of a piece of music. Scientific education predisposes us to the process of analytic reasoning.

Music towards science

Perform a piece of music requires a good understanding of its intellectual and emotional structure. One must learn the notes, and also decide how to make the listener understand the structure of the piece. Also, you need to plan how to keep the listener's attention and interest during the entire performance.

You have to adopt the same procedure when teaching a scientific topic. You familiarise yourself with the subject, you study it thoroughly. Then you prepare it in such a way that the student can derive the maximum insight into what is being transmitted to him or her. You also need to plan how to keep the student's interest throughout all of the course.

Communicating structure and motivation employs the same kind of techniques in musical performance and scientific teaching. Incidentally, these two are particular adaptations of techniques used on the theatrical stage. I owe most of my progress as a science teacher to my experience as a performer of music.


To be a bilingual also means being part of two different cultures.

As a Hungarian child, I had the good fortune of going in a French school in Budapest from the age of seven to ten. So, when I emigrated to France at eighteen, I knew French quite well, and soon I became fluent in it.

When you live in your native country, the schemes of reasoning and the value scales that you use seem absolute and immutable. In your new country, all these have to be reconsidered. In my case, I soon realised that the new language led me to new schemes of reasoning.

DoraThis idea of two different languages expressing two different cultures spurred me into trying out a very interesting experiment with my daughter Dora. Since her birth, I have spoken to her only in Hungarian. Now (1998) she is aged seven, and she understands Hungarian perfectly. When whe are in Hungary, she speaks Hungarian very correctly to everyone who does not understand French. Apparently, my experiment has succeeded.

At the beginning of this experiment, several persons warned me that Dora would mix up the two languages and that finally she could have difficulties with both of them. After having consulted some psychologists and also the specialised literature on bilingualism, I realised that language confusion mostly happens in families where there is a conflict between the parents. The personal conflict might be transformed by the child into a language conflict.

The fundamental principle is the following: one person should always speak to the child in the same language. Theoretically there is no limit to the number of languages that can be spoken to the child, provided that every interlocutor respects this principle.

My experiment has confirmed this idea perfectly. Dora is very fluent in French, and she speaks a quite precise form of Hungarian. When necessary, she is able to translate a conversation from one language to the other.

Please don't hesitate to your suggestions, remarks or criticisms.

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