Engineer sees music in math

Engineer John Wall frequently entertains questions asking about the mix of practical and lyrical elements of his life.

By day, he’s the vice chairman of the Cummins Inc. executive team and the company’s former vice president and chief technical officer.

Away from diesel engines, the pianist and singer — a former member of the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic Chorus — finds that the arts rev his enthusiasm as much as anything.

That helps explains how he came to be keynote speaker at the local professional orchestra’s 28th annual meeting Monday at YES Cinema downtown.

“I’ve always thought of engineering as the intersection of art and science,” Wall said. “And my experience has been that, wherever you find math, you find music.”

For proof, he quoted calculus co-founder Gottfried Leibniz: “Music is the sensation of counting without being aware you were counting.”

Wall followed Philharmonic music director David Bowden at the podium and touted a wealth of research, just as Bowden did, that the arts increase students’ academic performance.

“I saw that to be true myself,” he said, remembering his days in beginning piano lessons as a second- grader. Years later while in college, he found himself practicing pop tunes at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He still loves the keyboards today.

Six months ago, at a hotel in Shanghai, China, on a Cummins business trip, he discovered a piano in his room. So he used his cellphone to record himself performing “Back Home in Indiana” and sent the clip to his two daughters in Washington, D.C., both of whom were involved in music in their formative years locally.

He finds music nearly anywhere.

A few years ago, he and two Cummins friends formed the Turbo Trio — taking old violin bows and playing turbochargers with blades ground to different frequencies. He even approached Bowden after Monday’s meeting asking for help finding old, vinyl bows so the trio could play with unorthodox glee once again.

Just the thought made Bowden break into laughter.

The 63-year-old Wall has more than a song in his heart. He has served as a Columbus Area Arts Council board member and also acted as a chairman of the arts council’s unCommon Cause fundraiser the first time it cracked six figures several years ago.

“He has been an extraordinary advocate for all of us,” Bowden said.

When he retires in October, Wall will move to San Francisco. But he said he never will forget the people in the arts community here.

“Columbus is a small city,” he said. “But it is so big and so rich in the arts.”

Golden Baton Award winner: Vanessa Edwards

Violinist Vanessa Edwards has set the stage musically and literally for the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic.

She has worked as stage manager for several years for the local professional ensemble.

And she has fine-tuned her sense of service to such an extent that she also has served as leader of the orchestra’s education program, its youth orchestra, a coordinator of the children’s Phil’s Family Jam gatherings and in other roles.

Consequently, few were surprised when Philharmonic leaders announced her as the winner of the orchestra’s Gold Baton Award “for exemplary commitment to the musical arts.”

Annual meeting business

During Monday’s annual meeting of the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic, the organization:

  • Bid farewell to departing board president Mark Pillar, who served in that post for three years and now will serve as the orchestra’s first volunteer development director. It also said goodbye to board member Christy Langston, who completed her term.
  • Approved new officers Pete King, president; Sharon Sung Andrew, vice president; Therese Copeland, secretary; and Terry Trautman, treasurer.
  • Highlighted the 20th anniversary of Columbus Indiana Children’s Choir Artistic Director Ruth Dwyer, who will be featured in the April 2 concert, “Music For Royalty.” Dwyer is so high-profile among her peers that she regularly conducts workshops at music conferences worldwide.
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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at or 812-379-5672.