The Sweet Stylings of a Singing Chemist
In this week’s print Newscripts column, I wrote a bit about Cory C. Pye, a chemistry professor at Saint Mary’s University, in Nova Scotia, who sings to his general chemistry classes to summarize certain topics. Pye began adapting popular songs to have lyrics about chemistry nearly a decade ago and got a lot of press attention for it at the time.
I missed the boat on that one. But the story just came to my attention because of a recent (rather strange) paper in the Journal of Pan African Studies about Michael Jackson’s influence on academic research. The paper’s authors included a 2004 Journal of Chemical Education (JCE) article that Pye wrote about his use of music to teach chemistry in their list of research findings. Pye adapted Jackson’s song “Billie Jean” to teach his engineering students about “Nitrobenzene” and provided the lyrics to the new song in the paper.
In general, the songs are “not a major part of the learning per se,” Pye says, “but it’s a quick snapshot—a summary in music” that he uses at the end of each textbook chapter covered in the classroom.
“I’ve always been musically inclined,” Pye says. “I’ve been playing guitar since I was ten. This is a way of getting my creative juices flowing—and doing something that I enjoy. Students can really pick up on whether a professor is enjoying what he’s doing or not. If I’m having fun, then they’re having fun.”
At the suggestion of one of the reviewers on his JCE paper, Pye recorded a CD of his songs. “It’s recorded for posterity—anyone can download it from the JCE website,” Pye says. (Click on “Supporting Information” to do that). The songs are also available, with lyrics, on Pye’s site here.
To record the songs, he hired a mixing technician. Pye also plays guitar on a few of the songs. And for one of the tunes, “Father Murphy” (adapted from “The Night Pat Murphy Died” by Great Big Sea), his father even guest-stars on the accordion. “He just happened to be in town at the time I was recording,” Pye says, laughing. Clearly, he’s having fun.
And now, for your listening and sampling pleasure, I’ve included a few of Pye’s recordings, which I’ve mentioned both in print and in this post. Enjoy!