Office Treasures: A New Riff on Math Rock

Their CVs tell one story, but the things professors surround themselves with tell another

Mary Glaser in her office with an album cover

In the latest installment of an occasional series, we visit the office of Mary Glaser, a senior lecturer in mathematics.

It was the early 1990s, and Mary Glaser was living the academic version of la vida loca: teaching a mathematics course at UMass/Boston where she was also pursuing a master’s degree in computer science, schlepping to Tufts to teach two courses—and playing percussion in a band. Now a senior lecturer in mathematics in the School of Arts and Sciences, she laughs about the hectic pace: “In my youth I could do that.”

Nowadays life is calmer. Glaser still teaches math, but only at Tufts, and still plays percussion, but is selective about the gigs she chooses. In the 1980s and ’90s, she and friends from Dartmouth, where she earned a Ph.D. in mathematics, played in a band they called Lost Time, and later Right Time, which performed an eclectic mix of dance music, reggae, funk, jazz and pop.

A close-up of the album Right Time by the group Right Time, with Mary Glaser on percussion. Photo: Kelvin Ma A close-up of the album Right Time by the group Right Time, with Mary Glaser on percussion. Photo: Kelvin Ma

Glaser had studied percussion as a child and later played percussion in the orchestra at Smith College, where she earned her undergraduate degree. At Dartmouth she expanded her percussion collection to include congas, timbales, electronic drums and a variety of hand percussion.

Right Time was together for about a decade and released two albums. “One year we all left our jobs to try to make a go of it,” she recalls. It worked for a while: Right Time gigged 15 nights a month at such venues as the Channel, the Western Front, the Paradise and other clubs in and around Boston, as well as in Vermont. They even had a following. “You know the band Phish?” she asks. “Some of those guys would come to hear us when they were in college in Vermont.”

Glaser hadn’t completely let go of her day job, though, continuing to teach part-time. But soon “people were getting married and having families, and we got tired of making $15 a night, though we were having fun,” she says.

Today she’s a popular teacher—she made the Princeton Review’s best 300 professors list in 2012—who still plays. She performs with singer/songwriter Susan Cattaneo and also with Hipsocket, a local band whose website describes her this way: In her moments away from the groove, Dr. Glaser teaches advanced mathematical concepts; onstage she teaches us all about keeping it On The One. Not only does she bring texture and excitement to the rhythm section, she brings sequins—and we are honored to have her sit in with us.

And those albums displayed in her office? Once in a while students will notice the covers and ask about them. She’ll tell them about her musical life, and for students of the download generation, she patiently explains just what an album is.

Marjorie Howard can be reached at

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