Acoustical Society of America
Gold Medal Award - 1988

Arthur H. Benade

For nearly 30 yeas (1925–1987) has been one of the recognized leaders in the development of the acoustics of musical instruments. Born in Chicago when his father was a sabbatical visitor in A. H. Compton's laboratory. Art's first 16 years were spent in Lahore (British India, now Pakistan), where his father was a professor at Forman Christian College. It has been said that, as a young man, Art would beat, blow, or bow any object that could be persuaded to make a musical sound. This fascination, combined with his interests in physical science, led him to an exploration of acoustics that continued as he earned a Ph.D. at Washington University, St. Louis, in cosmic rays. At Case Institute of Technology, in Cleveland, he went to work in the department headed earlier by Dayton C. Miller, whose textbook on musical acoustics he had read avidly as a boy. Art began nuclear physics research at Case, pursuing acoustical interests in his spare time. His first book, Horns, Strings, and Harmony (1960), written at the request of the Physical Science Study Committee, has sold over 150 000 copies and has been translated into five languages. Many musical acoustics courses owe a large part of their genesis to the impact this small, clear, inspiring book has had on teachers. It also shows the extent of Art's wide-ranging interest in all aspects of musical acoustics from the characteristics of the sound source and the listening environment to the signal processing by the listener.

By the mid-1960s, Art declared his major research interest to be acoustics, so that his full energies, both during the workday and in his spare time, could be devoted to the subject he loved. With the help of excellent graduate students, the amount of work and the number of papers coming out of his lab increased greatly. His second book, Fundamentals of Musical Acoustics though written for the use of music students, is full of carefully crafted explanations backed up by equally careful mathematics that Art hoped would delight, instruct, and challenge those who took the time to work things out.

Although he considered himself in many ways a 19th-century scientist. Art was proud to be a part of the 20th-century renaissance of musical acoustics, applying much of what he knew of modern physics and even quantum mechanics to his work. Through his rigorous research and creative teaching. Art developed new concepts, theories, and practical applications in each of the broad areas to which he brought his expertise as a skilled playing musician, a trained craftsman, and a listener with extremely sensitive, educated ears. Apparently, he had the equivalent of absolute pitch for tone color: He was once heard to say, "I can remember a specific sound for a long while, and I thought everybody could." In addition, Art had a deep respect for the uses of both intuition and mathematical rigor as guides to experimental design. The limited funds made available to him for research suited his conviction that the simplest method of investigation tended to be the best.

He was particularly gifted at stimulating others to new heights of analytical and mathematical thinking. Easily approachable, he was generous with his time, but he had scant patience with those who persisted in careless, hasty research or superficial thinking. Many researches are good at getting answers, but Art's particular creative streak was in his ability to go to the heart of a problem and ask simple, direct questions, so that others could cooperate in finding answers. Details of Art's research and that of his many students are reported in papers covering important aspects of the acoustics of wind instruments. These include the mode conversion in flared horns, and a realistic, yet mathematically tractable model of the bore of a woodwind instrument based on the acoustics of a lattice of tone holes, which led to the concept of cutoff frequencies for isotropic and anisotropic radiation from a woodwind instrument.

By combining his abilities as a scientist, expert craftsman, and performing musician, Art was able to interact with the best professional players and instrument makers. He related his theoretical findings to actual performance problems and to the construction and alteration of instruments for improved tone and playing qualities. His actual playing of experimental instruments to demonstrate the results of theoretical analysis was a vital part of his presentations in many countries. He learned much from craftsmen and professional musicians and was able to speak their language, translating and developing what they told him into useful physical concepts. He even "conversed" with craftsmen of the past, examining earlier instruments for evidence of the thought processes behind the design concepts of their makers, particularly those who worked during the rapid development of the woodwinds in the mid-19th century.

As a dedicated teacher with a wry sense of humor who wanted to make people think, Art was so eager to communicate and his ideas so provocative that a serious discussion (even a telephone conservation) with him was an experience to be cherished and pondered for many long hours. During the 10 months he was bedridden with cancer, he continued to write papers and to carry on a large correspondence. Just a month before his death, Art was still able to suggest some new challenges on the acoustics of violins that will keep the rest of us going from a long time. His final paper was finished only 3 weeks before he died.

In addition to being a Fellow and former Vice President of the Acoustical Society of America, Art was active with many organizations around the world and contributed to many publications. He was a Fellow of the AAAS, a founding member and an early president of the Catgut Acoustical Society, a member of the original scientific advisory committee for the Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique in Paris, a contributing lecturer to several published symposia of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music, and a Plenary Session speaker at the 9th International Congress on Acoustics in Madrid. Besides his 2 books and well over 100 technical papers, his publications include two articles for Scientific American (on woodwinds and brasses), the musical acoustics entry for the AIP Encyclopedia of Physics (1980), the article on wind instrument acoustics for the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, and the article on musical acoustics for the Academic Press Encyclopedia of Physics Science and Technology (1987). This latter work sums up much of Benade's thinking on both wind and string instruments and defines problem areas for future research.

Often in discussions, particularly at meetings when he was proposing a new idea or a new way of looking at an old one, Art would assume a slightly awkward stance and an eager, almost puckish grin, and then proceed to talk on and around the subject at many different levels—depending upon his audience. He could hold forth simultaneously as a theoretical or experimental physicist, a skilled instrument maker, a talented and sophisticated musician, and an avowed iconoclast, as well as a concerned friend. To have known Arthur Benade in any or all of these capacities is an experience never to be forgotten.

Carleen M. Hutchins
William R. Savage