- Associated Press - Thursday, February 27, 2014

LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) - Musicians in Moldova - a country with 3.6 million people wedged between Romania and Ukraine - learn native folk songs by ear from a young age, flutist Rod Garnett said.

The musicians were supported by the former Soviet Union, and while they now struggle, the country’s passion for music is found in the churches, streets and homes.

“I’ve never gone as an expert in anything; I go to learn,” Garnett said. “Most college professors go as performers, and I was respected because of my age and experience, but I was just starting. They were so good. They kind of tested me to see if I could play.”

Garnett was in Moldova for 10 months in 2010-11 as a Fulbright scholar studying the pan flute. He teaches ethnomusicology - a combination of anthropology and music performance - at the University of Wyoming. Garnett is also an anthropology Ph.D. student.

He grew up in Denver and was a freelance flutist in Boulder, Colo. Garnett began teaching in 1990 and started at UW 15 years ago, when he was asked to develop a class about music in other parts of the world.

Garnett’s most recent travels took him to Eastern Europe, and twice he’s lived in Bali for three weeks.

“You go somewhere else, and it naturally changes you a bit,” he said. “I’m interested in how people respond to melodies and how they circulate. I think about music in a community. My experience is different than someone who plays in an orchestra.”

When he was in Moldova, Garnett observed musicians’ learning and playing processes, and documented their opinions of Moldovan music. He said observing discussions also proved useful because the musicians’ reactions were telling. He said he found that asking Moldovans their opinions did not always elicit honest responses, but engaging them in discussion about top players provided more insight, he said.

Garnett said differences in the way flutes are constructed reflect landscapes and social positions. Moldovan musicians play pan flutes, which are made from reeds or bamboo, because the country has many rivers. Players never have solos because the flutes need accompaniment, Garnett said, which leads Moldovan flutists to be more dependent on each other. He said in other societies, where flutes can stand alone, the players tend to be more individualistic.

Understanding the social and political context around music is what brought Garnett to Moldova, he said.

“Music reflects people,” Garnett said. “Music does not mean the same thing to everyone. There’s not a universal response - it’s a language with a lot of complexity.”

At UW, students can study ethnomusicology either as a minor or an emphasis within the music program. Garnett started the emphasis program in fall 2013 with the intent of preparing students for future work in the industry, he said.

Garnett assigns various music projects for his ethnomusicology classes, and said many students have started bands because of them. He also incorporates groups of international students into his work, like playing with Iranian students and their traditional instruments or with the African drumming group on campus.

He said he ultimately wants his students to be good musicians and respected wherever they live, regardless if they follow the same path he did.

“Anthropological thinking is good for everyone,” Garnett said. “You learn to respect cultural approaches, and kind of think in ways other people do.”

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