I am excited to see you all at the AMS/SMT Joint Meeting in Milwaukee in November. Our DISMUS special session “Recasting Music: Body, Mind, Ability” will take place on Saturday, November 8, 8-11 p.m.; mark your calendars. We are excited to feature short papers from Michael Bakan, Stephanie Jensen-Moulton, Jessica Holmes, Blake Howe, Jennifer Iverson, and Joseph N. Straus, and interactive discussion with our three respondents: noted senior Disability Studies scholar Tobin Siebers (University of Michigan), senior musicologist Andrew Dell’Antonio (University of Texas at Austin) and his collaborator in ongoing neurodiversity research, Elizabeth J. Grace (National Louis University). We are currently raising funds for respondents honoraria. Please consider donating as you are able; this is a unique and rare opportunity for us to interact with senior scholars, and likewise, for our musicological concern with disability to become more widely known to those active in DS. We THANK YOU for any donation you are able to make. Click the button to make a donation (in $10 increments; adjust your quantity accordingly). Payments are collected via the AMS. Questions/concerns can be directed to Jennifer Iverson (email@example.com).
Filmmakers in the UK are creating a film called “Inner Vision,” which is about the UK’s only blind orchestra. Additional information about the forthcoming film is featured on the official website: http://www.innervisionfilm.co.uk
For many of you who have been acquainted with Disability Studies for some time, it is not a revelation to view people who test “on the spectrum” (that is, on the autism spectrum) as talented, smart, exceptional individuals. I was delighted to read this article recently, “The Boy Whose Brain Could Unlock Autism,” by Maia Szalavitz in the web publication Medium. The article describes the research of neuroscientist Henry Markram, who now leads the EU’s Human Brain Project. Markram and his research team induced autism in rats’ brains, and studied how the synapses and cells responded to excitation. His team found that brain cells in autistic-type brains were hyperactive and much more connected than in neuro-typical brains. This research shows that autistic people are extremely smart; in fact, they learn much faster and have many more associations because of their hyper-wired brains. Of course, this can also result in sensory overstimulation and fear responses. Markram terms this the “Intense World Syndrome“.
Markram hypothesizes that what fundamentally characterizes autism is an excess of great synaptic activity, not a lack of social processing networks. Note the fundamental shift here from lack to excess–an important change in attitude that has been well understood in disability studies and neurodiversity communities for some time. I’m thrilled to see neuroscience researchers adopting the perspective of ability rather than the perspective of disability. I think this also demonstrates the way in which our humanities scholarship and personal/professional advocacy has important ramifications, sometimes specific, sometimes diffuse. Would Markram have been able to study and conceptualize autism from the perspectives of hyper-ability and excess, had the path not been slowly but surely cleared by cultural warriors who have been advocating for access, inclusion, and neurodiversity in their own communities?
If this topic is right up your alley, be sure to catch Michael Bakan‘s position paper at AMS/SMT, Saturday November 8, 8-11 p.m. Bakan (Florida State University) shares his work on an ethnographic project involving adult musicians who are on the spectrum. He’ll be joined by respondents Andrew Dell’Antonio (University of Texas at Austin) and Elizabeth J. Grace (National Louis University), who are working on similar research involving autism and music-making.
Filmmaker Holly Elson is creating a film called “The Viking of 6th Avenue,” which is about the avant-garde, and visually-impaired, musician Moondog, also known as “The Viking of 6th Avenue.” According to the film’s producer, it will include “a wealth of never before seen archival film/photos, home movies and rare audio recordings, as well as unique interviews with Moondog’s friends, family, collaborators and musicians who cite him as an influence including Jarvis Cocker, John Zorn, Debbie Harry, Damon Albarn, Philip Glass and many more.” Additional information about the forthcoming film is featured on the official Facebook page and web site.
The American Musicological Society’s announcements site for the AMS/SMT 2014 joint meeting in Milwaukee features an accessibility pledge, and a list of accessibility features for the 2014 conference. The pledge, which can be read on the conference web site and the conference accessibility page, is copied below:
Recognizing the contributions that scholars with disabilities have made and continue to make to the field of musicology, and in keeping with its commitment to the principles of inclusiveness and equal access, every effort will be made to meet the unique requirements of all attendees. Click here for more information and a list of accessibility features at the conference facilities.
The list of accessibility features also includes links to the AMS and SMT Guidelines on Accessibility and Accommodations for Members with Disabilities. The features listed are specific to the Milwaukee conference venues.
Many thanks to the ad-hoc committee on accessibility, which works towards improving accessibility for all conference delegates of AMS and SMT meetings.
Meghan Schrader received her M.A. in Music at the University of New Hampshire, and is the author of an article in the forthcoming collection Anxiety Muted: American Film Music in a Suburban Age, which will be published by Oxford University Press.
I am pleased to announce that the first meeting of the Society for Disability Studies music interest group was held recently at the national Conference of Disability Studies. The group was conceived around the original concept of musicology, described by Joseph Kerman in Contemplating Music, as having ranged “from the history of Western music to the taxonomy of primitive music, as it was then called, from acoustics to aesthetics, and from harmony to counterpoint to piano pedagogy.”
I find this definition is useful for our purposes: scholars in disability studies approach music in a variety of ways. We may be professional musicologists, or we may teach or study fields outside of music, such as English or Philosophy. In contrast to the breadth of methodological approaches to the study of music and disability, music is a distinct discipline with particular genres, history, and cultural practices; which differ from other forms of human expression. Hence, my hope is to provide a forum for SDS attendees to discuss music within a broad musicological framework. I also hope that doing so might foster collaboration with scholars who are affiliated with the AMS and SMT Disability Study Groups, in hopes that our divergent experiences might enrich each other’s scholarship.
By drawing on the increasing body of work related to music and disability, this group will consider the following questions: How can our work best reflect the interdisciplinary nature of disability studies? How does and should such musicology intersect with related fields, such a film studies, sound studies, and identity studies? What is music’s potential to reify or subvert cultural conceptions of disabled people, performers, and composers? What can disability studies contribute to music pedagogy? How might these contributions add to or change 19th century standards of musicianship that currently determine the practice of music? Can the social critique which often accompanies the analysis of narrative music also be applied to interpretations of absolute music? How can the analysis of music be integrated with ethical issues encountered in Disability Studies? What has disability studies to teach musicology, and what does musicology have to contribute to disability studies? How do nuances within disability identity impact our respective experiences as scholars, and particularly within the musicology/disability studies communities?
Our first meeting attracted scholars from a variety of different backgrounds and research interests, including:
- Presidential campaign music, opera on YouTube, and Freakery
- Music performance and, deafness in music with a focus on Evelyn Glennie and Christine Sun Kim
- Film music, particularly horror film soundtracks and film music of the 1950s
- Elitisim in music education
- Film music and studies of “The Beast with Five Fingers,” “Pride of Manres,” and Al Schidt and blindness
- Studies of Porgy and Bess and contemporary music
- Songwriting/performance with a focus on clinical psychology and metal music
We began the process of organizing one or more interdisciplinary panels for next year, in which we hope to bring these divergent interests together. True to the familial spirit of SDS, we also discussed the possibility of an “open mic night,” in which music scholars could not only meet for discussion, but also perform for each other.
We noted that SDS has had several music panels over the years, but that scholars who frequently attend SDS might be less likely to attend AMS, SAM or SMT meetings. Similarly, frequent participants in the latter conferences rarely attend SDS. Hence, another goal is to establish more frequent interactions and communication between scholars affiliated with these respective organizations. We would like to encourage these scholars to enrich both conferences with their presence and contributions.
Those wishing to participate in a panel should submit their abstracts to Meghan Schrader (meghanschrader at hotmail.com), Jessica Holmes (jessica.holmes at mail.mcgill.ca), and Dana Gorzelany-Mostak (dana.gorzelany-mostak at mail.cgill.ca) by October 31, 2014. The Society for Disability Studies Music Interest Group also has a Facebook presence.
The GSIM conference on music and normativity is currently in progress in NYC, and you can live-stream the events here. Today’s events, beginning at 10:30AM EST, include a workshop on scoring disability narratives by musicologist Kendra Preston Leonard. View the GSIM web site for information about the workshop, conference presentations from yesterday, and presenters’ abstracts and bios.