Submitted on Tuesday, 8/12/2014, at 2:59 PM

By William Sweet for Amherst magazine

If you spend the bulk of the summer in Professor Larry Hunter’s lab breaking new ground in the field of physics, what do you do to take a break? If you’re Daniel Ang ’15, you hop on a jet to Vienna to perform your prize-winning piano composition for an international audience.

Daniel Ang ’15 at piano
Daniel Ang '15 is taking a break from the physics lab to perform his winning piano composition in Vienna.

Ang’s composition “Klavierstück I: Energetic Fixations for Piano Solo” won third prize in the National Young Artist category of the Golden Key Music Festival Piano Composition Competition (open to U.S. residents) as well as an honorable mention in its International Young Artist category (open to people worldwide). He performed the piece at Ehrbar Hall in Vienna—where Brahms, Bruckner and Mahler once played—as part of the organization’s August 2014 festival.

Ang is a triple major in physics, math and music. This was his first time entering a music composition contest, and he has since entered more.

Ang began composing the piece last summer, while he was also working with the Advanced Cold Molecule Electron Dipole Moment experiment group at Harvard. This followed a sophomore year in which he co-authored a paper with Hunter for the journal Science.

Sheet music for Ang's piano composition

“I started doodling on the piano,” Ang says, “and I got fixated on this opening chord. I came upon this one bar-gesture and put it on paper. The hardest part is getting that initial spark of material. Once you’ve got that, it gives you the impetus for the next bar and the bar after that.”

The composition grew out of his interest in merging the traditional and nontraditional in music. He was studying harmony that summer, and the seven-minute piece uses chordal harmony based on intervals of fourths, rather than the traditional harmony familiar to many singers and instrumentalists, which uses thirds.

Ang keeps his science side and his music side distinct, so don’t expect any papers on the physics of music. “I want to develop as a person with scientific skills, but also with musical skills. My version of liberal arts is: you focus on two or three areas, and you become better at being a scientist and being a person of letters. It’s about being a balanced person.”

Rob Mattson photos