Mary Morwaread Farbood, SM '01, PhD '06

Award-winning harpsichordist creates Hyperscore.

From a very young age, Mary Farbood’s passion has been music.

“I still remember begging my parents to let me take piano lessons when I was five years old,” she says. Happily, they acquiesced when she was seven, and today she’s a visiting assistant professor of music and music professions at New York University.

Although the piano first whetted Farbood’s appetite for music, a bad case of tendinitis forced her to give up the instrument at 17. Instead of pursuing a conservatory education after precollege studies at Juilliard, she attended Harvard University, where she studied music and computer science while playing both the keyboard and the French horn in two different orchestras.

For one concert, Farbood was asked to play the harpsichord solo, an experience she calls eye-­opening. “At that point I became very interested in learning how to play the instrument properly,” she says. “Harpsichord technique is quite different from piano technique and requires a very different approach to expressive playing.”

As an Emerson Fellow pursuing PhD studies at the Media Lab, Farbood resumed private music lessons. In 2005 she won first prize at the Prague International Harpsichord Competition; the next year she won the Pro Musicis International Award.

Besides performing, Farbood studied music theory and cognition, computational modeling of music, and computer-assisted and algorithmic composition systems. As part of her PhD work, she authored Hyperscore, software that uses computer graphics instead of musical notation to teach the essentials of music composition. “MIT was essential in shaping my interests and focusing them,” Farbood says. “While I had studied both music and computer science at Harvard, they were separate endeavors. MIT provided me with just the right environment to combine these two interests.”

Farbood now commutes between New York and Boston, where her husband lives.

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