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Student Profile: HollyAnne Giffin

HollyAnne Giffin is currently studying in Senegal. (Photo: courtesy of HollyAnne Giffin)
Tennessee native HollyAnne Giffin was not expecting much when she enrolled in Professor Stilwell’s Music and Dance in America course. A transfer student from Kenyon College, Giffin viewed taking Stilwell’s class as simple means of fulfilling a humanities and writing requirement.

“Frankly I was expecting a rather tedious class in which we’d have to write about dead white men,” Giffin joked.

Instead what she got was an enriching experience and what she deems her “most favorite class” during her tenure at Georgetown. From that moment, she was hooked to music, and all of its endless possibilities. Now in a study abroad program in Senegal, inspired by a final paper she wrote for one of Stilwell’s classes, Giffin is consumed with the auditory aspect of life. She says she hears things far differently than she had before, and lessons she learned from Stilwell resonate with her in Senegal.

"By far the biggest thing that I have learned from Professor Stilwell’s classes," Giffin explains, "is to actually listen to music. Not just recognize the artist or sing the refrain, but also recognize the origins and influences, the style of instrumentation, the environment the music is played in."

Giffin now enjoys the art of “true listening” throughout the streets of Senegal. As a Christmas gift, she received an audio recorder and is traversing the streets with her recorder in tow, taping the sounds and songs she hears along the way—including congo drums and the songs of beggar children.

“I usually travel to Latin America, but I chose Senegal because of its famous music culture.” She explains, “Music is really big here: the radio is always on, the TV is always playing music videos, everyone sings or hums or whistles and there’s dancing everywhere all the time.”

Giffin, who expects to graduate in 2010, said that Stilwell and her courses not only had a profound impact on her travel plans, but on her career plans as well.

“Whether she knows it or not, Professor Stilwell seriously altered my life plans. I was initially going to join Teach for America after graduation. But as of right now, I’m hoping to go on to some sort of advanced studies in ethnomusicology.”

So as she takes in all of Senegal’s aural beauty, through dance and drumming classes, Giffin is falling in love with a country whose musical culture is prevalent and undeniable. But she has not forgotten where the first seeds of her musical exploration were planted.

“I am always shocked at how much Professor Stilwell knows. She can draw all kinds of connections and it’s always been enjoyable to be in her classes,” Giffin said.  
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Professor Robynn Stilwell Finds Meaning in Music
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