My Fictional Professor

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Immunity.jpgA new novel by Lori Andrews called Immunity contains a character named Peter Gena, a professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, who creates computerized programs that turn the DNA sequences of various diseases into pieces of music. Although Peter is not truly fictional: in fact, he was my composition teacher in grad school at Northwestern, and he really does make a wide variety of scintillating pieces for Disklavier and other electronics from DNA sequences. Andrews heard about him through a mutual geneticist friend whom Peter collaborates with, and mentions him twice in the book, on pages 9 and 41. Immunity is a kind of action novel about a sexy geneticist named Alexandra Blake who tries to unravel an epidemic caused by someone infecting drinking water with a toxin that makes people fatally allergic to man-made substances. Blake listens to DNA sequences through Gena’s program to try to hear dissonances that alert her to problematic viruses. It’s a very fast read that comes off like a would-be film script, with all the characters using the same kind of curt, snappy dialogue. I spent a lovely weekend with Peter the last couple of days, and realized again what a felicitous meeting of minds we were, and how lucky I was to have studied with him. (Among hundreds of happy coincidences: I’ve been meaning to listen to Saint-Saens’s Third Symphony because McLaren recommended it to me in a recent comment. Peter put on a CD to show off his new stereo components. “What is this?,” I asked. It was Saint-Saens’s Third Symphony.) Thank goodness Peter wasn’t merely fictional.


  1. says

    I played 2nd trumpet in Saint-Saens 3d Symphony with the Cal Lutheran Orchestra this past March. A very forward-looking piece for its time. Happy to report that Saint-Saens is a friend of the brass player – all the complicated stuff was mainly in the strings. There is a nice chorale tune in the middle. Even the big fanfare at the very end of the last movement is doable. We were, however, cautioned not to look startled at the organ entrances, which are very loud; the director had us mark these places on our parts.

  2. says

    I first encountered the Saint-Saens Third Symphony through the 1995 Australian movie “Babe”, which is about a pig who wants to be a sheep dog, and based on a book by the same name. The main theme of the last movement is used as a lullaby sung to and by the pig (he talks, but only to the other animals). As I recall, large portions of the symphony are heard during the credits (though possibly rearranged).
    On a technical note, could you look into getting an RSS feed for comments? It would make keeping track of the conversations here much easier.
    KG replies: Tell me how.