MOTM March 2019 - Dr. K. Dawn Grapes

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Hello again, friends of the Fort Collins Wind Symphony! We’re back with another edition of the Musician of the Month, and are pleased to feature one of our flutists, Dr. K. Dawn Grapes.

Dawn is an active performer in the Northern Colorado region and has served as the FCWS principal flutist for several years. When she is not performing, she is engaged in scholarly pursuits at Colorado State University where she teaches music classes and studies music history. Her history expertise is well known in the Northern Colorado region - she writes program notes for the Colorado Bach Ensemble, and hosts the “Composer Talks” lecture series for the Fort Collins Symphony. A full detail of her academic work can be found at her website.

We sat down with Dawn and picked her brain about music and the importance of music history.

FCWS: In your words, please tell us who you are and the role you play in the Fort Collins Wind Symphony, and then please tell us a little about your music career.

Dawn: Well, I am a musician, a teacher, a scholar, a wife, a mother, and hopefully a decent human being, not necessarily in that order. In the Fort Collins Wind Symphony, I serve as principal flutist, which is a pleasure and an honor. My music career has sort of taken two tracks. For about twenty years, I was primarily a freelance flutist, doing a variety of things. I played with professional orchestras in a number of states, had my own teaching studio, taught at several universities and community colleges, and was a freelance performer and contractor in Nashville. I have always had a special interest in music history, however, and about ten years ago, I decided to get my Ph.D. and travel down the academic path, and here I am today, on the faculty of the School of Music, Theatre, and Dance at CSU, as an Assistant Professor of Music History, and delighted to be surrounded by music and history every day.

FCWS: So far, we’ve featured a combination of educators, composers, and professional performers. In addition to your education and performing, you are a professional musicologist. Can you tell our audience what musicology is? 

Dawn: Musicology is just what it sounds like: the study of music. It often gets categorized as the academic side of music studies. There are a number of different sub-fields within musicology, such as ethnomusicology [the study of music within cultures], performance practice, theory, phenomenology, popular music studies, and historical musicology, which is what I do.

FCWS: As a musicologist, what is your primary area of expertise?

Dawn: My research right now mainly revolves around music and musicians in early modern England—the Tudor and Stuart eras. I try to find out and elucidate how music of the time reflected the values, beliefs, customs, and social structures of Elizabethan and Jacobean England. In many cases, though the place, time, and technology may be different, there are a lot of parallels to our present day, some four hundred years later. My latest project is on John Dowland, the “rock-star lutenist” of the early seventeenth century.

FCWS: Why is it important to understand and study the history of music, including and beyond western art music?

Dawn: Music, in some form, is practiced in almost every time and culture. In many ways, it serves as a way to tell the story of any particular group of people. Studying a people’s music can help add a dimension to understanding them. There is a who, what, when, where, how, and perhaps most importantly, why, behind every piece of music. Sometimes the answer to that “why” is complex and sometimes very simple, but it provides a lens through which to understand people who are like you and people who are different from you. What could be more important? 

FCWS: For our younger listeners, can you describe what a career in musicology looks like? What sort of professional options exist for musicologists? 

Dawn: Musicology is such a broad field. There are many different roles musicologists play, and many paths that one can take in the discipline. The most obvious is university professor, but there are other options: archivist, museum curator, librarian, writer, copyright specialist, advisor to film or television studios, editor for book or music publishing, and of course, performer, for some.

FCWS: When you’re not working on your research and teaching at CSU, you perform regularly with several small ensembles in the Northern Colorado region. Can you tell us about the other ensembles you perform in?

Dawn: I am a founding member of a flute-clarinet-piano trio called Sound de Trois, which specializes in contemporary chamber music, and I am part of a group called Hyperprism, which presents chamber recitals and takes on recording projects. In some ways playing with groups that play contemporary music balances out the early music researcher in me. I also do a lot of church gigs around town, and have a special affinity for collaborating with organists. The flute sounds really nice with pipe organ pipes.

FCWS: Is classical music “dying” in the 21st century, or is it still relevant for our culture?

Dawn: People have been bemoaning the “death” of classical music for decades. But in a lot of places, the art music world is still going strong. I do not see the end in sight. As an early music historian, of course I think older music is relevant. However, I also believe that there is room for new music, and innovation is a beautiful thing. My favorite pieces of music that fall under the “classical” label are often those newer pieces that draw from the past, but are infused with modern sensibilities. Wind music composers often understand that, which is one of the reasons I really enjoy playing with the Fort Collins Wind Symphony. In historical research, we build on what those before us have done. It is inevitable. Why not music?

FCWS: What does the future of classical music look like?

Dawn: I know better than to try to predict the future. But in this newest era of globalization, I hope that music of all kinds, art music included, brings us all a lot closer together.