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Before his first years of formal edu­cation, Jack Rei­noehl counted the pages of department store cat­alogs, dis­playing his natural curiosity for math and numbers. Around the same time, he was given a book on birds and developed a fas­ci­nation with them. In fourth grade, he began playing trombone.
An Emeritus Pro­fessor of Math­e­matics and Com­puter Science at Hillsdale College, Rei­noehl con­tinues to travel around the world as a “birder,” iden­ti­fying birds by their sounds and counting them. And though he no longer plays trombone, he attends school orchestra con­certs almost reli­giously, familiar with nearly every song.
“He is one of the most likeable men you’ll ever meet,” Asso­ciate Pro­fessor of Math­e­matics David Murphy said. “He’s always happy, smiling, and ready with a joke. If you went in and chatted with him in his office or passed by, music was always playing. It con­tributed to and rein­forced his happy per­son­ality. He was immersed in it.”
But music didn’t click with Rei­noehl imme­di­ately. When, at the direction of his mother, he began piano in kinder­garten, he didn’t take to it. But a few years later, he was able to take trombone lessons from a pro­fessor at Michigan State Uni­versity. By taking lessons from a pro­fes­sional at a young age, Rei­noehl developed a passion and skill for the instrument.
He began earnestly lis­tening to clas­sical music during college and joined the sym­phony during his graduate studies of abstract math at the Uni­versity of Cal­i­fornia Berkeley, playing trombone there for nearly seven years.
“We did lots of pro­fes­sional reper­toire,” Rei­noehl said. “It was a totally unfor­get­table, valuable expe­rience. We did stuff that most people would never get the chance to do.”
As a result he can identify not only the music the Hillsdale College orchestra plays, but can also hear any blunders in the per­for­mance.
“It nasty to say, but it’s not that hard,” he said. “Espe­cially in 19th-century music, all of the chords are quite con­sonant, so one single wrong note turns a chord that’s very easy to listen to into some­thing that really stands out. It’s fair to say I’m hyper sen­sitive to being out of tune.”
Despite not receiving formal training in music theory or history, he taught himself to easily identify sym­phonies and operas throughout history. He under­stands pat­terns, chords, and har­monies of the various genres and par­tic­u­larly appre­ciates finding exotic or emo­tional aspects in the music. Assistant Pro­fessor of Math­e­matics David Gaebler said Rei­noehl was always willing to “talk shop” about music, explaining the intricate details of the second movement of some sym­phony.
“There is an unde­niable con­nection between music and math, “Rei­noehl said. “It is somewhat mys­te­rious, but there’s a lot of abstract ele­ments in music. You can express yourself per­sonally in music, which you can’t really do in math­e­matics, so it’s a good com­pliment. You’ve got a much fuller life if you’re doing both of them,” Rei­noehl said.
Asso­ciate Pro­fessor of Math­e­matics Samuel Webster noted that Reinoehl’s passion for math­e­matics is equaled by his love for birds. Rei­noehl once took him on a birding trip and showed him a grove of cedar trees, home to several long-eared owls.
“Other times, we’d drive around the country in springtime, and he’d roll down the window and just by hearing bird sounds he could tell you what they were,” Webster said.
One year, Rei­noehl attended an end-of-the-year picnic at the home of one of the math pro­fessors. After five minutes, Rei­noehl had already dis­covered five dif­ferent types of war­blers on the property.
“I have three little ones, and it’s fun watching him interact with them,” Gaebler said. “He’ll do dif­ferent bird calls and flap his wings. The kids just love it — he’s one of their favorite people.”
Rei­noehl has traveled through the states as well as to South America, Africa, and East Asia as a part of his birding respon­si­bil­ities, which include both counting birds and tab­u­lating infor­mation.
“It ties in with an interest in music because that really is the best way to find birds: to hear their songs,” Rei­noehl said. “Nothing was more exciting than to hear a song I didn’t rec­ognize and chase down what was singing it, and hope it was a new bird. I can remember back in my neigh­borhood there was a Bal­timore Oriole that had a song like a TV theme song.”
Though he no longer works as a math pro­fessor, Rei­noehl returns to Hillsdale occa­sionally to read and work in his tem­porary office, attend orchestra con­certs, and visit with the faculty and stu­dents.
“He’s always struck me as being kind, soft-spand thoughtful,” Asso­ciate Pro­fessor of Math Ryan Hutchinson said. “Those are three words that come into mind when I think about him.”