Penn State

Penn State, State College communities mourn music professor, library volunteer’s death

This is what data sounds like

Mark Ballora, professor of music technology at Penn State, is a fan of sonification. Sonification is a data set represented as sound. Unlike most people, he tries to get people to listen to data like they listen to music and blur the line between
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Mark Ballora, professor of music technology at Penn State, is a fan of sonification. Sonification is a data set represented as sound. Unlike most people, he tries to get people to listen to data like they listen to music and blur the line between

The Penn State community is mourning the loss of a professor who left a lasting contribution the university and the community at large.

Mark Ballora died unexpectedly Thursday at 57 years old. He worked as a professor of music technology at the School of Music and as an affiliate faculty in the School of Theatre. Ballora was also appointed director of the Arts and Design Research Incubator.

“Mark’s joyful presence was felt by all in the School of Music,” School of Music Director David Frego said in a press release. “Faculty and graduate students considered themselves fortunate if Mark wrote them a song extolling their talents. He was a master of craft in music technology and worked across the college on many collaborative projects.”

While not teaching students at Penn State, Ballora volunteered at Schlow Centre Region Library for various children’s programs.

Head of Children’s Services Paula Bannon said Ballora was one of the library’s “most requested” readers at Schlow’s annual reading of “The Polar Express.”

“We are brokenhearted to hear of Mark’s passing,” Bannon said, adding that Ballora often brought attendees to tears during his readings.

During the library’s 2018 summer reading program, Bannon said Ballora tailored his research for kids and taught program participants about the science of sound.

“Those in attendance had a fabulous time and learned a lot,” Bannon said. “I remember Mark saying that he hadn’t ever really introduced his work to a group of kids before and was a little nervous about it, but the kids really responded to his teaching style and he was thrilled, saying that it opened up his work for a new age group.”

Bannon said his presence and participation in library programs will be missed.

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Mark Ballora reads the holiday classic, Polar Express to youngsters at the Schlow LIbrary on Saturday, December 15, 2012. Abby Drey CDT photo

In a press release, Penn State said he will be remembered for his “sense of humor, rubber chickens” and his tributes for ailing or retiring colleagues.

Before moving to State College, Ballora grew up in Marin County, California. Attending UCLA, Ballora earned a degree in theater arts. After college, he moved to New York City, where he worked on Wall Street. While living in the city, Ballora began composing music and enrolled in New York University’s Department of Music. He earned degrees in composition and music technology. In 2000, Ballora became a professor at Penn State, according to the press release.

A published author, Ballora’s work was featured in Science magazine, HuffPost, The Conversation and Electronic Musician. In 2016, Oxford University Press published his book, “Digital Audio and Acoustics for the Creative Arts.” He collaborated with Grateful Dead percussionist Mickey Hart and was awarded two grants by the National Academies Keck Futures Initiative and the Gulf Research Program in 2017.

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Mark Ballora, a Penn State music technology professor, works with scientific data to create music in the Arts and Design Research Incubator. Abby Drey adrey@centredaily.com

“Professor Ballora led the way for collaborations that exploded the boundaries between art and science,” College of Arts and Architecture Dean Barbara Korner said in the release. “He helped many understand that artists bring unique perspectives to research questions. His kind and fun spirit enhanced his intellectual curiosity. His passing leaves a hole in many of our hearts.”

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