Tom Leahra Query

3 views
Skip to first unread message

William Ian Gasarch

unread,
Nov 16, 1989, 12:56:39 AM11/16/89
to

I probably mispelled his name, but this is about Tom Leahra
who was a Harvard Math Grad Student and a singer of THREE
albums worth of novelty songs.

Two questions:

1) I once heard a rumor that he wrote a song called something
like ``every little delta has an epsilon'' and that it appeared
in the Math literature someplace. If anyone knows, please
email me a reference.

2) Did he ever publish anything in Math?

gas...@cs.umd.edu

Reino de Boer

unread,
Nov 17, 1989, 3:15:54 AM11/17/89
to
gas...@brillig.umd.edu (William Ian Gasarch) writes:


>I probably mispelled his name, but this is about Tom Leahra
>who was a Harvard Math Grad Student and a singer of THREE
>albums worth of novelty songs.

His name is Tom Lehrer, and he indeed recorded three albums.
The only song about math I can remember was:
The New Math
which was on the album
That Was The Year That Was

>Two questions:

Couldn't answer either of them.

Reino
--
Reino R. A. de Boer
Erasmus University Rotterdam ( Informatica )
e-mail: re...@cs.eur.nl

Torkel Franzen

unread,
Nov 17, 1989, 5:42:04 AM11/17/89
to
In article <1989Nov17.0...@cs.eur.nl> re...@cs.eur.nl (Reino de Boer) writes:

>The only song about math I can remember was:
> The New Math
>which was on the album
> That Was The Year That Was


Don't forget his instructive song for young mathematicians, "Lobachevsky".
("Plagiarize! Plagiarize! Let no one else's work evade your eyes!")

Nicholas Reingold

unread,
Nov 17, 1989, 11:01:41 AM11/17/89
to

gas...@brillig.umd.edu (William Ian Gasarch) writes:

>I probably mispelled his name, but this is about Tom Leahra
>who was a Harvard Math Grad Student and a singer of THREE
>albums worth of novelty songs.

reino@cs (Reino de Boer) writes:

> His name is Tom Lehrer, and he indeed recorded three albums.


Actually he recorded SIX albums, but only three albums worth of songs.
There are three live recordings and three studio recordings. Only
three are now avaiable (to my knowledge): That Was The Year That Was
(live), An Evening Wasted With Tom Lehrer (live), and Songs By Tom
Lehrer (studio).

The live version of Songs By (I think it's called More of Tom Lehrer)
is really funny. During the introduction to Lobachevsky (a song about
mathematics, by the way) he says, "I don't have to do this, you know.
I could be making, oh, four thousand dollars a year just teaching!"

Incidentally, he wrote a few songs that are not on these albums,
so he may well have written the song that Bill mentioned.
-- Nick

Brian Howard

unread,
Nov 17, 1989, 4:09:44 PM11/17/89
to
Well, a couple years ago there was a discussion of Tom Lehrer on one of
the local boards here at Stanford. I saved the messages (being quite a
fan of his); here is an edited summary.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------
(from Tony Siegman)
"The Derivative Song"
To the tune of "Balling the Jack":

You take an f(x) and you call it y
Take any x-nought that you care to try
You take a little change and call it delta-x
The corresponding change in y is what you find nex'
Now divide one by the other, and then care-full-ee
Send delta-x to zero and I think you'll see
If we have done it rightly, and our work all checks

(With feeling!!)

That's what we call dy-ah-dx!.......It's just dy-ah-dx!
-------------------------------------------------------------------------
Here are the words to Lobachevsky, as they appear in ``Too Many Songs by
Tom Lehrer (with not enough drawings by Ronald Searle)'' (I don't have
the publication information handy, but it came out in the last decade).

Lobachevsky
-----------
Who made me the genius I am today,
The mathematician that others all quote,
Who's the professor that made me that way?
The greatest that ever got chalk on his coat.

One man deserves the credit,
One man deserves the blame,
And Nicolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky is his name.
Hi!
Nicolai Ivanovich Lobach-

I am never forget the day I first meet the great Lobachevsky.
In one word he told me secret of success in mathematics:
Plagarize!

Plagarize,
Let no one else's work evade your eyes,
Remember why the good Lord made your eyes,
So don't shade your eyes,
But plagarize, plagarize, plagarize-
Only be sure always to call it please 'research'.

And ever since I meet this man
My life is not the same,
And Nicolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky is his name.
Hi!
Nicolai Ivanovich Lobach-

I am never forget the day I am given first original paper to write.
It was on analytic and algebraic topology of locally Euclidean
metrization of infinitely differentiable Riemannian manifold.
Bozhe moi!
This I know from nothing.
But I think of great Lobachevsky and get idea - ahah!

I have a friend in Minsk,
Who has a friend in Pinsk,
Whose friend in Omsk
Has friend in Tomsk
With friend in Akmolinsk.
His friend in Alexandrovsk
Has friend in Petropavlosk,
Whose friend somehow
Is solving now
The problem in Dnepropetrovsk.

And when his work is done-
Haha! - begins the fun.
From Dnepropetrovsk
To Petropavlosk,
By way of Iliysk,
And Novorossiysk,
To Alexandrovsk to Akmolinsk
To Tomsk to Omsk
To Pinsk to Minsk
To me the news will run,
Yes, to me the news will run!

And then I write
By morning, night,
And afternoon,
And pretty soon
My name in Dnepropetrovsk is cursed,
When he finds out I publish first!

And who made me a big success
And brought me wealth and fame?
Nicolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky is his name.
Hi!
Nicolai Ivanovich Lobach-

I am never forget the day my first book is published.
Every chapter I stole from somewhere else.
Index I copy from old Vladivostok telephone directory.
This book was sensational!
Pravda - well, Pravda- Pravda said: (**)
It stinks.
But Izvestia! Izvestia said: (**)
It stinks.
Metro-Goldwyn-Moskva buys movie rights for six million rubles,
Changing title to 'The Eternal Triangle',
With Ingrid Bergman [yeah, I know, the record says Doris Day] playing
part of hypotenuse.

And who deserves the credit?
And who deserves the blame?
Nicolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky is his name.
Hi!

----
(**) At each of these two junctures one should insert some phrase in
Russian (if the audience does not speak Russian) or some Russian
double-talk (if it does). The author's own choices varied from
performance to performance, ranging from the merely inappropriate to
the distinctly obscene.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------
Dr. Demento was discussing Tom Lehrer's recording history a couple of
weeks ago (no, *I* would never listen to Dr. D, somebody, er, TOLD me
about it!) and he said:

Tom Lehrer's first album was in fact Songs by Tom Lehrer. It was
originally pressed in a 10-inch version and distributed entirely
through mail order and direct sales from Mr. Lehrer himself, mostly
to colleges, Lehrer having just graduated from Harvard. It became
very successful, and he toured around for awhile, after which he
released a second album (name forgotten) consisting of the same
songs as on Songs by Tom Lehrer (which by this time was available
from a real record company in full size 12 inch) but recorded live
on the tour.
A year or two later his next two albums were released, simultaneously.
They again had the same songs (as each other, that is), with one live
and one studio. The live on, "An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer", has
survived to this day. The other one (name again forgotten) didn't
do nearly as well and is extremely rare. Shortly thereafter, Lehrer
got sick of the touring life and retired from the comedy/music biz.
He was lured out of retirement to write songs for the TV show That Was
the Week That Was, and he did just a couple of live shows featuring
those songs, which were recorded and used on the album That Was the
Year That Was. Then he retired again and is now a part-time lecturer
in Math at Santa Cruz or Santa Barbara or Santa Claus or some such
place. [ed. Santa Cruz is correct]
That's what I hea.., er, I mean, that's what my friend told me.

John
-------------------------------------------------------------------------
I know of three songs by Tom Lehrer that aren't on any of the records (that
I've heard), nor in the book or in the show (_Tomfoolery_, produced first in
London in about 1980, I believe). I came across them by chance in some old
American Math. Monthlies; I've checked their indexes/ices from the past 40
years or so but I haven't found any more -- 1974 seems to have been a very
good year for the mag. One of them is the Derivative Song that Tony Siegman
reported here, with some slight differences; I'd like to know what his source
was, if there are more to be found. Anyway, here they are:

AMM, 81 (1974) 490:
THE DERIVATIVE SONG
Words by Tom Lehrer -- Tune: "There'll be Some Changes Made"

You take a function of x and you call it y,
Take any x-nought that you care to try,
You make a little change and call it delta x,
The corresponding change in y is what you find nex',
And then you take the quotient and now carefully
Send delta x to zero, and I think you'll see
That what the limit gives us, if our work all checks,
Is what we call dy/dx,
It's just dy/dx.

--------------------------------

AMM, 81 (1974) 612:
THERE'S A DELTA FOR EVERY EPSILON (Calypso)
Words and Music by Tom Lehrer

There's a delta for every epsilon,
It's a fact that you can always count upon.
There's a delta for every epsilon
And now and again,
There's also an N.

But one condition I must give:
The epsilon must be positive
A lonely life all the others live,
In no theorem
A delta for them.

How sad, how cruel, how tragic,
How pitiful, and other adjec-
Tives that I might mention.
The matter merits our attention.
If an epsilon is a hero,
Just because it is greater than zero,
It must be mighty discouragin'
To lie to the left of the origin.

This rank discrimination is not for us,
We must fight for an enlightened calculus,
Where epsilons all, both minus and plus,
Have deltas
To call their own.

--------------------------------

AMM, 81 (1974) 745:
THE PROFESSOR'S SONG
Words by Tom Lehrer -- Tune: "If You Give Me Your Attention"
from _Princess_Ida_ (Gilbert and Sullivan)

If you give me your attention, I will tell you what I am.
I'm a brilliant math'matician -- also something of a ham.
I have tried for numerous degrees, in fact I've one of each;
Of course that makes me eminently qualified to teach.
I understand the subject matter thoroughly, it's true,
And I can't see why it isn't all as obvious to _you_.
Each lecture is a masterpiece, meticulously planned,
Yet everybody tells me that I'm hard to understand,
And I can't think why.

My diagrams are models of true art, you must agree,
And my handwriting is famous for its legibility.
Take a word like "minimum" (to choose a random word),
{This was performed at a blackboard, and the professor wrote:
/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/}
For anyone to say he cannot read that, is absurd.
The anecdotes I tell get more amusing every year,
Though frankly, what they go to prove is sometimes less than clear,
And all my explanations are quite lucid, I am sure,
Yet everybody tells me that my lectures are obscure,
And I can't think why.

Consider, for example, just the force of gravity:
It's inversely proportional to something -- let me see --
It's r^3 -- no, r^2 -- no, it's just r, I'll bet --
The sign in front is plus -- or is it minus, I forget --
Well, anyway, there _is_ a force, of that there is no doubt.
All these formulas are trivial if you only think them out.
Yet students tell me, "I have memorized the whole year through
Ev'rything you've told us, but the problems I can't do."
And I can't think why!
-------------------------------------------------------------------------
(Tony Siegman again)

My source for the "Derivative Song" was memory, so my version of the lyrics
may have some errors. Also, my meory says the last line is "That's what
we call dy-yie/dx", in close mimicry of "That's what we call ballin' the
jack", to the same music as the latter.

When I was an undergrad at Harvard in 1952 (or was it maybe when I was there
as a visiting prof in '64?), Lehrer presented the final class session in
one of the undergrad physics courses.

Anyway, the class met in a physics lecture hall like Varian 100 or 101 in
the Tank, with electrically operated blackboards. When this last special
session was held, the lecture table had been rolled out, and a grand piano
rolled in. The electric blackboards had been painted with colored chalk
to look exactly like the proscenium and curtains at the Boston Symphony.
The room was packed with everyone in the Department.

Lehrer came in, in tails as I remember, dramatically punched the button that
made the "curtains" go up, underneath was written in large letters "The
Physical Revue", and he began an hour's worth of just that. Besides the
"Derivative Song" (I think), there was certainly the "Periodic Table" song,
Lobachevsky, and a round, sung with four associates, which I've never
encountered since, which had Lehrer as professor and the others as students
singing

Now then, are there any questions? (G G G-G-G-G E C)
Now then, are there any questions? (ditto)
If there are none, (C C C A)
Then I am done (C C C G)
(And I have nothing more to say-ay) (E D C B D C A D C)

(Last line not sure about, and also the music may be wrong)

First student:

Man, he asks if there are questions
Man, I've got a million questions
I've got a ton,
And every one,
Would take a half a day to ans-wer.

There may have been more verses; I don't remember. If someone else knows
of this, I'd be delighted to hear of a place to locate it. (It may have
been a follow-on to the "Professor's Song"?)

The only other Lehrer in my repertoire is "An awful debility, a lessened
utility, a loss of mobility, is a strong possibility,..." ...which
unfortunately begins to strike closer to home every year...

Brian Howard

unread,
Nov 17, 1989, 6:18:06 PM11/17/89
to
Reingold...@cs.yale.edu (Nicholas Reingold) writes:
>Actually he recorded SIX albums, but only three albums worth of songs.
>There are three live recordings and three studio recordings. Only
>three are now avaiable (to my knowledge): That Was The Year That Was
>(live), An Evening Wasted With Tom Lehrer (live), and Songs By Tom
>Lehrer (studio).

>The live version of Songs By (I think it's called More of Tom Lehrer)
>is really funny. During the introduction to Lobachevsky (a song about
>mathematics, by the way) he says, "I don't have to do this, you know.
>I could be making, oh, four thousand dollars a year just teaching!"

As a postscript to my previous message, here's some new information. I
had the good fortune to be able to go to England earlier this year, and
while I was in Cambridge I checked in a few record stores to see what
could be found. I came away with a cassette of the original (London)
cast recording of ``Tomfoolery''; I also came away with regrets that I
wasn't able to stuff LPs in my luggage 'cause I found a copy of the
live version of ``Songs By Tom Lehrer'' (which was indeed called
something like ``More of Tom Lehrer''). I don't suppose it's been
released lately (this was a rather old copy), and I've still seen no
evidence that it was _ever_ released in the US, but the fact that I
stumbled across a copy so easily (I only went into a couple record
stores there) gives me hope that it can still be found.

Also, in the early 70's there was an ``Electric Company'' album released
(you know, the ``Sesame Street''-like show) that included Tom Lehrer
singing ``Silent E'', along with lots of other good stuff by people
such as Bill Cosby and Mel Brooks. Again, I have no solid information
on this (I saw it when a friend who worked at a radio station let me
look through the station's record library).

-- Brian (a person who has no .signature file)

Mike Schilling(This sentence no verb.)

unread,
Nov 17, 1989, 12:43:10 PM11/17/89
to
From article <20...@mimsy.umd.edu>, by gas...@brillig.umd.edu (William Ian Gasarch):

>
> I probably mispelled his name, but this is about Tom Leahra
> who was a Harvard Math Grad Student and a singer of THREE
> albums worth of novelty songs.
>
> Two questions:
>
> 1) I once heard a rumor that he wrote a song called something
> like ``every little delta has an epsilon'' and that it appeared
> in the Math literature someplace. If anyone knows, please
> email me a reference.

Tom Lehrer. I remember seeing this song in the AMA journal in the late 70's
(sorry I can't be more specific). It was a calypso, and began (roughly):

There's a delta for every epsilon,

It's a fact you can always count upon,


And now and again,
There's also an N.

But one condition I must give.
The epsilon must be positive.
If he's not, no delta for him.

Noam Elkies

unread,
Nov 19, 1989, 12:13:29 PM11/19/89
to
In article <1989Nov17....@Neon.Stanford.EDU> bho...@Neon.Stanford.EDU (Brian Howard) writes:
>[............]

>
> Now then, are there any questions? (G G G-G-G-G E C)
> Now then, are there any questions? (ditto)
> If there are none, (C C C A)
> Then I am done (C C C G)
> (And I have nothing more to say-ay) (E D C B D C A D C)
>
>(Last line not sure about, and also the music may be wrong)


The music of the first four lines matches the beginning of
a round by Mozart (with the original text starting either
"O, du eselhafter Martin / O, du martinische Esel" or the
other way around---when we sang this in high school the
director made us change the off-color lyrics; I recently
ran across it again in a little book of eight scatological
rounds by Mozart, and found out why...). Mozart had the
first four lines in the rhythm: |G GGGGG|E C . . |
|G GGGGG|E C .CCC|A .CCC|G ., and the concluding line
goes something like CDE|D A G B |C (with all notes between
the B and A). I don't remember hearing this on the Lehrer
records; perhaps he didn't find the three co-conspirators
he'd need for the full round.

Are there any questions? :-)

--Noam D. Elkies (elk...@zariski.harvard.edu)
Department of Mathematics, Harvard Univ.

Nicholas Reingold

unread,
Nov 27, 1989, 8:12:04 PM11/27/89
to
In article <1989Nov17.2...@Neon.Stanford.EDU>, bhoward@Neon (Brian Howard) writes:

> I also came away with regrets that I
> wasn't able to stuff LPs in my luggage 'cause I found a copy of the
> live version of ``Songs By Tom Lehrer'' (which was indeed called
> something like ``More of Tom Lehrer''). I don't suppose it's been
> released lately (this was a rather old copy), and I've still seen no
> evidence that it was _ever_ released in the US, but the fact that I
> stumbled across a copy so easily (I only went into a couple record
> stores there) gives me hope that it can still be found.

The British version is somewhat different from the US version. As
near as I can tell, the US version was recorded as Kresge auditorium,
MIT, while half of the British version is from that performance, and
half is from a performance is Australia. The British version is
indeed readily available (in Engalnd), while the US version has been
out of print (press?) for many years.

>
> -- Brian (a person who has no .signature file)

-- Nick

Reply all
Reply to author
Forward
0 new messages