Southeast Student Turns Dow Jones Stock Market Data into Music


Composition Tells the Highs and Lows of the 2007-2008 Financial Crisis

Can the stock market be considered music? Investors, stockbrokers and others in the financial industry may agree with the sentiment metaphorically, but not literally. Most others would probably say no.

In celebration of World Piano Day, Southeast Missouri State University is sharing how senior Landon Schnurbusch is demonstrating otherwise by using Dow Jones stock market data to tell a story through music — a story he will “tell” next month during his final composition recital as a Southeast student.

Schnurbusch, of Cape Girardeau, is a musical composition and mathematics actuarial science double major who plans to graduate in May. For the last several months, he has been composing a number of pieces on the Yamaha Disklavier, a traditional concert grand piano with Bluetooth compatibility and USB connectivity for pairing smart devices.

The Disklavier’s capabilities mean performances can be streamed or received from anywhere and played immediately, remotely. A pianist can also assign specific keys to data points using the instrument’s computer connectivity — a feature that has unlocked immense compositional creativity for Schnurbusch.

Using daily values of Dow Jones data from September 2007 to March 2013, Schnurbusch composed on the Disklavier a piece called “The Financial Crisis of 2007-2008” to tell the story of the 2008 economic crisis through music. Schnurbusch said he saw a commonality between the musical characteristics of the data and what people might have been feeling amidst the crisis.

“Musically, the result that you get is that you start out with the high points of the piano and then at some point it quickly jumps down to the low points, and it’s kind of scary sounding,” Schnurbusch said. “And then, as it slowly trickles its way back up to the top of the piano, you see the whole process of the recovery, too.”

“The Financial Crisis of 2007-2008” is a work that pairs his academic interests with the musical talent Schnurbusch has been grooming since he started piano lessons at age 5.

“The programming side of things I’ve had to pick up over the years for my math degree, and so I’ve gotten better at that, but I’ve never had a musical use for it,” he said. “Now, I get to program thinking about music specifically and that’s a lot of fun.”

Because of its technological capabilities, the Disklavier offers somewhat of a new frontier for composers by way of opportunities that Southeast music theory, piano and composition instructor Dr. Robert Fruehwald said are not available through traditional performance.

“Composers can write things for the Disklavier that are impossible for humans to play because they have too many notes, too much contrast, are too fast or too complex,” Fruehwald said. “Since many composers today like to push the envelope of what is possible, the Disklavier is really valuable,” Fruehwald said.

The Disklavier has also opened frontiers in the classroom.

“The Disklavier has been a tremendous addition to our program,” said Dr. Kevin Hampton, professor and chair of the Department of Music. “It is used each week in performance class, allowing students an opportunity to view their individual ‘mechanics’ at work at the keyboard, measuring the depth and retention of each keystroke or pedal movement and how that affects the sound they produce when playing.”

The instrument has also been used for virtual masterclasses in which Southeast’s Disklavier “talks” with another Disklavier in a separate location, even across state lines. Already this year, Southeast has partnered with the University of Iowa and with a guest artist from Colorado.

“Our students perform in Shuck Recital Hall and their performance is transmitted and viewed or heard on the instrument in the remote location, allowing the guest artist to both observe how the keys and pedals are being played while also hearing an exact replication of the sound our students are making at the instrument from our location,” Hampton said.

It’s even advantageous for prospective or remote students.

“We can now conduct a virtual audition from any location on the globe, observing and hearing that student’s performance from any location,” Hampton said.

The Disklavier is one of 40 Yamaha pianos the University acquired in the fall as part of an ongoing strategic initiative to infuse technology into Southeast’s music and theatre and dance programs over the next 10 years.

“Our goal is to provide our faculty and students with cutting edge technology to enhance their creative work, their teaching and their imagination for new possibilities for music performance,” Hampton said.

The Holland College of Arts and Media was recently designated as an inaugural Yamaha Institution of Excellence, a distinction that acknowledges Southeast as a premier destination for artistic excellence.

The Senior Composition Recital, where Schnurbusch’s original pieces can be heard, will take place at 7:30 p.m. April 20 at the River Campus’ Robert F. and Gertrude L. Shuck Music Recital Hall.