I met Professor Bayard only once, in 1992, after he gave a lecture at Harvard University (about which more below). I was teaching at Brown at the time, having driven from Providence to Cambridge for the occasion of his lecture; and when we were introduced he asked me what I was working on. I told him I'd been visiting with Old Regular Baptists, singing along with them, and was starting to look for the origins of their melodies. He didn't waste any time. "What's your favorite tune among them?" he asked. I thought for a few seconds; I didn't have one--I had many. "Well, maybe it's one they sing for 'Guide me o thou great Jehovah,' I said. "Sing it for me." I did, knowing that there were several tunes that went to the 'Guide me' text, and he needed to know which one I meant. "Oh," he said, "that one. Very nice. That's 'Adieu Dundee.' A Scottish tune. 1600s." I wrote the name down and later looked it up. Sure enough, that was it.
A few years earlier, I had given the problem of melodic resemblance to our computer scientists at Brown. They had sent out a bulletin looking for interesting problems that computers might solve. I thought I had one, and they did, too. At first they were confident that they could come up with an effective algorithm. Six months had gone by after I gave them some melodies that I thought resembled each other, and yet I had not heard from them. Finally I called the lead scientist. He told me that they had lost interest and were about to give up. Things that are identical are not difficult for a computer to discern, he said; but similarity--family resemblance--is a puzzle that baffles even the smartest computer. It takes a human being to know melodic differences--and similarities. Samuel Bayard had been at it for more than fifty years.
|Professor Samuel P. Bayard|