Western musicologist James Grier has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship – one of just seven Canadians among 173 global scholars, writers and artists.
The Music History professor in the Don Wright Faculty of Music is a world-renowned scholar in the origins of musical literacy, specifically in the evolution of ‘plainsong’ medieval music dating from AD 800-1100.
The Guggenheim Foundation chose this year’s winners – appointed on the basis of prior achievement and exceptional promise – from among 3,000 applicants. Since 1925, the foundation has granted more than $375 million to more than 180,000 individuals, including Nobel and poet laureates, Pulitzer Prize and Turing Award winners.
“This is a high point in an academic career that has, so far, spanned more than three decades,” Grier said. “It’s more than a compliment to be considered a peer of these internationally accomplished people. It’s a real honour.”
Among his research breakthroughs, Grier was first to discover that an 11th-century monk named Adèmar had written musical notes (neumes) above chants he composed and scribed to indicate where the pitch should rise and fall. It was the precursor to today’s musical staff and marked the start of the spread of musical literacy to a written system from an oral tradition.
“The Guggenheim Fellowships are awarded to top scholars and artists in the world, and we’re extremely proud Professor Grier has been named to its ranks,” said Andrew Hrymak, Provost and Vice-President (Academic). “Jim’s decades of scholarship have helped transform the study of medieval music, and this newest honour rightly recognizes the international impact his work has had in the field.”
In 2009, Grier was awarded a two-year Killam Research Fellowship, a pinnacle recognition of excellence in Canadian scholarship. Of six Killam winners in music, he is the only Canadian-born and -trained.
He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and taught at Yale University for seven years before coming to Western in 1997.
Grier is an expert in textual criticism and editing music; music and liturgy in medieval Aquitaine; and popular music since the Second World War. His research has also received support from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, the American Council of Learned Societies and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
This year’s Guggenheim Fellows are drawn from 53 scholarly disciplines and artistic fields, 78 different academic institutions, with only seven honourees in Canada, four from Ontario and three from British Columbia.