Running the Gamut: Music librarian develops collection, encourages students to incorporate music into their lives

April Greenan is almost impossible to catch. The music librarian and professor rushes from her office downstairs to classrooms upstairs, her petite frame loaded down with hard-bound books ranging from musical theory to composition.

The woman rushes around, but her genuine smile and natural windswept grace makes her appear like she floats instead of hustles.

That same grace is conveyed in the growing collection of books, CDs, vinyl records and scores she has been in charge of collecting and maintaining in her five years at the McKay Music Library. When first peering at the bookshelves filled with record sleeves and texts, it’s easy to see nothing but chaos. After closer examination, the care that went into cultivating them rapidly becomes clear. Greenan remembers when she first came to the U and looked at the space allotted for the library.

“All I could think was “How are we going to make this space work?'” she said of the polygon-shaped room with rectangles sticking out at odd angles. With the help of the Marriott Library and its then-director, Sarah Michalak, Greenan and her student assistants have made it work.

“This will never be a grand music library. At the Yale music library, you walk in and it’s just like a cathedral, and this will never be that,” she said. “But the students have made this place theirs, they have shaped it.”

That shape is often changing because the library relies heavily on donations. While the library receives large monetary donations from Quinney Foundation, the rest comes from community members making generally much-smaller donations. When she talks about how the library has come together, her eyes get a bit glassy and her smile becomes a bit more contemplative.

“People here are so generous. That’s unprecedented-I don’t have to drain the few resources of the School of Music and we can build an incredible collection,” she said.

John Hollenhorst, of KSL Channel 5 News, donated his jazz vinyl collection with his intricate, cross-referenced filing system intact he called the “Jazz-O-File.”

Greenan said a fairly constant stream of books, CDs, vinyl and scores comes to the library in dropped-off boxes from people who were cleaning out attics or moving.

A large chunk of the library’s collection came from KUER’s classical music collection. After the station dropped classical music from its playlist, they sold the CDs to the library for $30,000, but they allowed the collection to be transferred before the library had paid in full.

“That instantly tripled the number of CDs in our collection, but we’re still looking for funding to finish paying KUER,” Greenan said.

The library houses computers with pull-out electronic piano keyboards so music students can work on composition and pitch, but Greenan said all students are not only welcome, but encouraged to listen to the library’s collection.

Greenan is a huge proponent of incorporating music into daily lives. In addition to her majors-only classes, she teaches Honors classes that fulfill general education requirements, which she says can be some of her favorite experiences. She cites research that has shown that those who play and listen to music can stave off Alzheimer’s and also increases eye-hand coordination.

“You use essentially every part of your brain when you listen to music. You are using emotion, memory and recalling social context of when you first heard the piece,” she said.

She said humans seem hard-wired to incorporate music into their lives, dating back to pre-history.

“As archaeologists excavate sites, they’re finding flutes and musical instruments form 50,000 to 80,000 years ago. It seems that music is connected with human development, and that music is a natural companion for humans,” she said.

She said that while she’s grateful that the world is seemingly filled with music, listeners should be careful to discern what they pay attention to. “There is such a thing as bad music, and that’s in every kind of music…music can be so bad,” the holder of a master’s degree in musicology said with a grimace. “We’re not using music to its fullest potential; we’ve allowed it to become a commodity.”

She said that people now pay a lot of money to listen to music, but people’s taste has degenerated over the centuries. However, she spins it optimistically.

“Maybe that’s just the price we pay for having the ability of having the world’s music around us,” she said.

A cross-section of the world’s music is housed in the McKay Music Library, house in the bottom floor of Gardner Hall, and while students may only see a blur as Greenan whisks by on her way to teach, she says she hopes students will use the library to enrich their lives.

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