The Planetary Society
Visions Artists Engineers & Astronauts Scientists Systems
James Boyk  –  pianist
Click for larger image " The real piece of music isn't what's printed on the page. It's the sounds the composer heard in his or her head, and the feelings the composer was expressing with those sounds."
How were you originally motivated to become a pianist?
  I've always simply known that I was a pianist. I didn't have my first lesson until I was seven; but when I was five and my aunt took me to a piano concert, I pointed to the stage and told her, "One day I'll be up there." Because I was so certain about this when I was so very young, I say that being a pianist is not just what I do, it's who I am.

I've had jobs as a mathematician and computer programmer (my bachelor's degree is in mathematics), but I didn't love those jobs the way I love being a pianist.

However, making a living as a pianist is very hard. When I was young, my parents' friends would tell me, "You should only go into music as a career if you love it." This is wrong, because everyone loves it! What I say is: You should only do it if you cannot be happy doing anything else.

  Click for larger image
What can you share about your creative process?
    A concert pianist plays an "interpretation" of the musical score for an audience. An interpretation is a way of playing a piece that makes sense musically and emotionally.

The real piece of music isn't what's printed on the page. It's the sounds the composer heard in his or her head, and the feelings the composer was expressing with those sounds. I'm trying to recreate those sounds and feelings in the listener. To do so, I must first understand them myself by looking at the score and imagining the sounds. This is something like looking at a shadow and trying to imagine what it's the shadow of.

I do this with music by listening as hard as I can while I'm playing, and noticing at each moment the differences between what I expect and what the composer actually wrote.

I play the piece when I'm in a million different moods. Sometimes my mood fits one part of the music well, and then I think that's the right mood for that part.

I sing the melodies and I dance the music. I play the piece every crazy way I can think of. And I use a tape recorder for some special learning techniques I've invented.

"Practice" is the word for all this, and practicing is one of the most interesting activities you can imagine! It's also one of the most tiring, because you must always be listening closely and trying to express the feelings of the music. It's odd that most people think practicing means doing the same thing again and again mindlessly. That's just what it's not!

What ideas do you have for a future human community on Mars?
  First, how important quietness is! I imagine that the Mars settlement will be noisier than a mall. There will be big air–conditioning fans; motors and generators, security systems and freight elevators; pumps and air scrubbers. Beeps, boops, hums, rattles and throbs. I bet everything will be noisy all the time!

Some noise might be welcome in such an alien place, the way a distant station on a car radio can comfort you at night when you're driving through empty country. And "noise–canceling headphones" might help individuals a bit. But I think it's important to have at least one room that's as quiet as an open field. A place where people can talk to each other calmly, or just sit by themselves and think clearly. Mars will take a lot of clear thinking.

Second, the Mars rockets will carry at no extra cost the most expressive of all musical instruments: the human voice. I suggest that the community form a chorus. There will be a lot of loneliness and frustration on Mars, and no communal activity comforts people more than music.

Third, you know what I'd like to have on Mars. But––Shhh!––don't tell anyone I snuck a piano on board the rocket!

––James Boyk

P.S. If you're interested in music and sound, my web site may interest you:
Home page:
Music sessions, open to all:
Lessons & coaching:

And you can download a soundfile of me performing the Presto movement of Beethoven's Seven Bagatelles, Opus 33.
PC WAV sound file (1.3M)
Mac/Sun AIF sound file (1.3M)
This is taken from my CD Boyk Beethoven
(PR-9-CD) available from Performance Recordings
2135 Holmby Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90025

Thanks to Max Berson, David Boyk, Ariadne Greif, Matthew Growdon, Anna Sutheim, David Wyner and Saul Wyner for feedback!

ŠJames Boyk 1999. All rights reserved. Permission given to Mars Millennium Project for non–commercial use only. Reprinting of this response in any form must be in full (763 words) and carry author's name and this notice.

Art/Sci/Astro Entrance | Imagine Mars | Visions | Artists | Engineers & Astronauts | Scientists | Systems