For the love of science and music

3 January 2017
How does a science/law student still pursue a love of music?

The first entry in a series where we ask our students to tell us about their passions and pursuits outside of the sciences.

Image courtesy of John Appleyard

Calida Tang studies a Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Laws and plays viola in the Sydney Youth Orchestra. She is the Vice President of the Women in Science Society and President of the Physics Society



I’ve been playing music since I was quite young, learning violin, viola and some piano, and I have always participated in school music groups such as orchestra or chamber choirs. However after leaving school and starting my combined Science/Law degree at the University of Sydney, I had to push myself to continue making music. I did this by joining Sydney Youth Orchestras as well as performing in some paid quartet gigs at weddings or for music artists.

The most important reason for continuing to engage with music was that without it, it felt like something was missing – it has always been a part of my life. For me, merely listening to music being performed is a completely different experience to being involved in the playing of it. I could not be content with leaving my instrument case to gather dust after I started at university. In some ways, it was also very challenging. 

It’s a never-ending journey of learning and understanding

With the high contact hours most science students would experience, attending full day rehearsals during busy weeks with imminent assessments and quizzes often made me question whether I made the right choice to persevere with making music in a high calibre orchestra. Yet when I am on the stage with fellow musicians giving life to Janáček’s eclectic Cunning Little Vixen, Vaughan Williams’ grand Sea Symphony or Debussy’s fantastical La Mer, the answer in my head is always undoubtedly yes.

I even see the intensive rehearsals as part of the creative process, enabling me to learn and discover the nuances and unique stories behind each piece and ultimately to give life to the visions of composers who I have never met. It’s a never-ending journey of learning and understanding in a different manner than encountered in university lectures.

I could not be content with leaving my instrument case to gather dust after I started at university

My musical pursuits are undoubtedly integral to my life while at university and I would say that they complement my science degree because they are so different from what I learn about. While my study of physics helps to understand the world around me, it falls short of explaining the deep emotional connection humans have to music.

Sound waves may shed light on how different intervals or timbres are produced from a source, but it does not begin to explain why the combinations and permutations of such can evoke such strong emotive responses in people. While I wouldn’t say that science itself lacks emotion and excitement, musical performance is my way of connecting with that innate interest in sound and satisfying my creative desires.

It has been said that mathematics is a universal language which can bridge together people of different backgrounds and nationalities. I believe music is similar in its universality. Its ability to tell stories throughout time and space is, in my opinion, magical in contrast to science and that is why I continue to engage with it for balance and diversity.


If you're a science student with an interesting or intriguing passion outside the lab and would like to share your story – let us know.