I’m April Greenan. I’m the instigator and custodian of SoundThinking.org.
I’m a historical musicologist and teach at the University of Richmond in Richmond, Virginia. My primary area of study is western art music of the 18th century; I’m particularly interested in how music was performed and perceived during the Age of Enlightenment. I examine the conventions of improvisation and ornamentation–how performers added their own embellishments in a rhetorical way to communicate with their audiences.
The grand experiment of the Enlightenment is still being worked out: the attempt to form a more perfect union, a democratic republic. My work in 18th-century music embraces the musics of the United States, an improvised and embellished democratic republic. I’m drawn especially to these four topics of American music:
The life and music of Francis Hopkinson (1737-1791), one of our noble (and very cool) Founders–who was also a musician (along with Mr. Jefferson and Dr. Franklin, his personal friends). Hopkinson was the composer of some of the earliest secular music produced in colonial America. Native American music is, of course, the earliest of American musics. Hopkinson was a master of 18th-century social media; he used the press to criticize and fabulously embarrass British authority in the colonies. Literary scholars declare his most pungent political satire the equal of Swift, Addison, and Steele. He was a federal judge, the first secretary of the U.S. Navy (not with that title), the “treasurer” of foreign loans to the developing republic, an inventor, and the designer of the American flag: the stars and stripes were his idea. His life is a story that has yet to be told accurately and in full.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s WPA and the Federal Music Project, which launched sweeping and bold initiatives in music education, established the formal preservation of our traditional musics, shaped the nation’s professional symphony orchestras, and engaged Americans with music in unprecedented and unparalleled ways.
I’m interested in the social ramifications of multiple music traditions coexisting in American communities large and small. Learning about the world’s musical traditions that have been sustained, merged with others, or threatened in the United States led me to develop and teach courses in so-called “world” music (so far, most of the music we hear is from our one world, so that nomenclature is troublesome), or traditions other than that of the western art canon.
Consequently, I wrangle with the unavoidable truth: racism is relentless in our country. We can trace the destructive path of racism in vivid color (yes, color) when we look at the history of music in America. In fact, as my students frequently discover, music has been at the core of some of the most dramatic race-related events in our history–some positive, some devastating. I have found that music is an effective catalyst for discussion about racism and feel strongly about the need for such discussions among lawmakers, co-workers, family members, friends, and college students.
I’m also a student of Native American music and cultures and dream of a day when I can speak the language of the Diné (Navajo) without inducing peals of laughter owing to my resilient bilagáana accent.
We honor the Navajo Code Talkers, the last of whom has now left us. Chester Nez passed away 4 June 2014. Ahééhee’.
Here’s one more topic of my research and one of particularly intense interest to me:
Knowing and working with Kim Peek led me to an on-going and in-depth exploration of music and the brain. This exploration has expanded to include the study of how music affects our bodies, that is, the study of music and/as medicine. I have lectured on this topic at the Medical School of the University of Virginia and hold a five-year appointment as clinical assistant professor in the School of Nursing at UVa. I now teach a course on music and medicine in the Master of Liberal Arts Program at the University of Richmond. I know enough about this interdisciplinary topic to say with confidence that humans have just scratched the surface of what music is and how it can affect our health and more fully enrich our lives.
Since you’ve virtually dropped by, please share your thoughts about music, science, art, education, the brain, or the nature of sound itself.
And, again, welcome.
(In the photo above, I’m standing in front of Native petroglyphs in Nine Mile Canyon, Utah.)