FORM AND FEELING
John Lienhard presents
guest essayist Megan Cole
Today, our guest. Seattle actor Megan Cole,
considers a necessary partnership. The University
of Houston presents this series about the machines
that make our civilization run, and the people
whose ingenuity created them.
There's a story about the
great pianist Leopold Godowsky, who apparently had
quite small hands. He was asked by an avid fan
after a concert, "How can you play so magnificently
with such small hands?" Godowsky replied, "Whatever
gave you the idea that I play the piano with my
Good story. What he meant, I think, is that music
is an experience, not just a technique, and that
it's the balance between the two that creates the
full musical expression.
Form and feeling: it's the classic and necessary
partnership that applies to virtually all human
endeavors: art, business, relationships, science,
on and on. We need both objective knowledge and —
let's call it — intuition to see the whole
This was very clear in a concert a couple of years
ago at Rockefeller University called Polymaths
and the Piano. The players were amateur
pianists whose day jobs are in science: doctors,
mathematicians, biologists, computer scientists.
They played quite difficult pieces, then sat down
together and talked about the connections between
music and science. In the end, most of them agreed
that music, like science, is "a way to grapple with
the mysteries of existence." As one electrical
engineer said, "Music is evidence that reason is
incapable of understanding everything."
So, art and science, so long seen as separate
worlds, may have very real connections, very
similar goals. One of those mutual goals, for
example, is certainly discovery, the solving of the
puzzle. Consider how a physician delves into a
patient's particular illness, peeling away the
layers of the puzzle, trying to divine the
underlying truth. It's a process comparable to
finding the music within the score, the meaning
within the words, the story within the dance.
They're all fascinating puzzles.
In fact, Robert Frost wrote somewhere about "the
pleasure of taking pains." Perhaps some of the
pleasure of medicine as well as of art comes from
just this: the practitioner overcomes meaningful
difficulties, and this is the accomplishment, the
fun. In art, the artist creates the difficulties
and in the medicine the difficulties are created by
the disease, but the challenge is the same: to
successfully overcome the imposed problems, to
solve the puzzle.
It's always good to remember, though, that the
experience of illness is different from its
symptoms, that the experience of a poem is
different from its words. "How does a poem mean?"
John Ciardi once asked. "How shall I know the
dancer from the dance?" Yeats wondered. For just as
art and science are both ways to "grapple with the
mysteries of existence," so a happy balance of form
and feeling is crucial to a compassionate
understanding of our difficult world.
.... Or to playing the piano, even with small
I'm Megan Cole, and in the theatre, as at the
University of Houston, we're interested in the way
inventive minds work.
Megan Cole is a noted stage and TV actor and regular
visiting faculty member at the University of Texas
Medical Center in Houston. She originated the role of
Dr. Vivian Bearing in the Pulitzer-Prize-winning play
Wit. She has also played recurring characters on
Seinfeld, ER, Star Trek,
Judging Amy, and other popular shows.
(Photo devised by John and
The Engines of Our Ingenuity is
Copyright © 1988-2003 by John H.