In 1965, statisticianfounded “the madrigal group” made up of several of his UCLA Mathematics Department colleagues, some of their spouses and a few non-mathematical friends, about a dozen people in all. The purpose of the group was to explore by singing the huge literature of unaccompanied part songs, secular madrigals and their ecclesiastical cousins the motets, written during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries by that age’s most talented composers. With gradual changes of personnel, but with the same makeup, the group continued its meetings, twice monthly during the academic year, until it was ended by the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.
The group did not perform, it existed only for the entertainment of its members. The singing of madrigals and motets does not require a beautiful voice nor extensive training because the people for whom they were written had neither. But it is not easy: the leader sounds the key note on a pitch pipe and the singers must navigate the often intricate counterpoint with no support except the company of the members of their section: usually soprano, alto, tenor or bass.
Tom and his soprano wife Chris joined the madrigal group in 1982. The tradition of the group had been for members to take turns hosting the meetings, but while the Liggett children were young, it met at the Liggetts’, so they would not need babysitting, while the members of the group took turns bringing the all-important snacks for the traditional meeting break. In recent years, the Liggetts hosted the group’s Christmas party, a potluck dinner to accompany the singing of traditional carols, in four-part harmony of course, and other Christmas music.
Tom sang with the accuracy and attention to detail that people who knew Tom would expect from him. His pleasant baritone voice, in the middle of the male vocal range, blended seamlessly with those of the other two or three men that constituted the group’s “bass section”. During a period in which the group found that the Spanish vocal tradition, though limited, was well suited to its present makeup, Tom, who was bilingual, helped us pronounce the texts correctly.
The mathematical world will surely miss Tom greatly, and so also will the tiny corner of the musical world occupied by “the madrigal group”.
Robert F. Brown is an algebraic topologist (retired) at the UCLA Department of Mathematics and a tenor in the madrigal group.