Born and raised in Ellensburg, Washington State University 2019 graduate Garrett Snedeker received a Fulbright U.S. Student Program grant to London’s Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. He has been singing and performing in musical theater since he was 5 years old, growing up in a family of musicians. His father, Jeff Snedecker, is a music professor at CWU and plays the French horn. His mother Marilyn Wilbanks plays the piano and has taught Garrett how to play since he was 4.

Snedecker has earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Piano Performance/Pedagogy and is now on his way to get his Master’s. He will be leaving in three weeks bound for the Greenwich borough of London to explore music’s ability to create social change.

Q: What cultural issues do you plan to tackle?

A: So, in the last few decades there has been a growing amount of research concerning how music historically reflects parts of our culture, and how music can both reflect and shape our culture.

Certain musicologists are interested in gender representations in opera traditions of the 17th and 18th centuries. For example, if a man was singing on stage, the composer would try to emulate a sort of “masculine sound” in the orchestra, and vice versa for women characters. This practice can also be seen in the instrumental music written during that time. My research is about uncovering historical gendered connotations in music, specifically that of the Beethoven piano sonatas.

Q: Does it get difficult when you’re dealing with hundred-year-old views on gender and sexuality?

A: Yes, especially when things are changing so quickly now in the 21st century. It’s important to listen back with a historical ear, and to think about what they were hearing in the context in which they were hearing it.

For example, a good chunk of music from the 1600s was not meant for the concert hall — it was just to have in the background of social gatherings. Today, most of this music is being played in concert halls, which changes how we listen.

In my research, it’s important to recognize that composers included historical gender connotations as undoubtedly subconscious things. Composers weren’t thinking, “I’m going to make this a masculine sound.” I need to make sure I’m not putting words in old composer’s mouths.

Q: What will your research consist of on a day-to-day basis?

A: Lots of classes, music theory, history, and I’ll be working closely with an advisor named Dr. Sophie Fuller, who is a musicologist in London. She published one of the first article collections on feminist musicology, so with her I’ll be going over sources and historical documents.

I’ll also be doing a heavy amount of analysis of the musical scores themselves, using different pieces of music between 1790-1820, to see where historical gendered connotations arise.

Beethoven wrote 32 piano sonatas, and they’re considered some of the most important pieces in the keyboard repertoire. There are usually two themes in a sonata. The first is the historically more masculine theme where, say, in an opera you would have the man singing. Historically, then the female character would be introduced next with her theme. At the end of the piece, the masculine theme is introduced again, and then the feminine theme as well, but it’s in a different key, the same key as the man’s theme. This implies that something changed for them to be together.

Beethoven changes that up a lot, doing really unexpected things with keys and taking the music in directions you wouldn’t expect. Specifically, his sonatas’ forms are what I’ll be digging into with my research.

Q: What has inspired you to do this project?

A: While I was at WSU, I got really interested in how music can impact communities, and can be a catalyst for social change.

The last few years, I’ve been researching a Brazilian composer named Chiquinha Gonzaga (1847-1935); Brazil’s first female professional pianist. She sold her music door-to-door to raise money to free slaves, as well as wrote theater pieces which were usually for elite audiences. In her theatrical works, she would include plots of lower-class characters, helping elites to understand and be exposed to different stories. I thought it was very inspirational, how she would bridge social classes. Jumping off of that, I became more interested in how music can make a difference in communities.

Q: Why have you decided to focus on gender issues?

A: For the last four years, I lived in a gender-inclusive residence hall at WSU, and became president of hall government my freshman year. Since most of the people in that housing were LGBTQ, I found myself immersed in the issues my friends dealt with around campus, hearing their stories and struggles. It made me think how I can connect my passion for music with my interest in trying to be an advocate.

Q: With all the work you’re doing, do you feel a sort of pressure or responsibility?

A: There is a responsibility. I’ve had so many great musical experiences just in this valley, and have experienced the importance of music in small communities. With my parents being musicians and traveling around the world with them, I’ve had this rich, broad experience of music around the world, and it would be a shame if I kept all of that to myself. If anything, the pressure is just a question of “how can I really make value of the experiences I’ve had in music, and how can I do my best to share that with everyone?”

Q: What comes after London?

A: After I finish my degree, I’ll be volunteering, hopefully, for an LGBTQ organization doing fundraising, and maybe teaching piano. I might come back to the U.S., or maybe try and make things work over there. It’ll be sort of a hodgepodge of things, performing when I can, accompanying other musicians, and giving talks on the research I’ve been doing. Definitely not just one thing.

Wherever I go, I think it’s important to mention how thankful I am to Ellensburg, it’s really made me who I am. I’m just very grateful for the opportunities to get a variety of experiences in music here. It’s something I’ll carry forever.

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