AMS/SMT Saturday Special Session–DONATE HERE

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 (

Music and Disability events at the AMS/SMT joint conference in Milwaukee

There are a number of items of interest to music and disability researchers at the AMS/SMT joint conference in Milwaukee this year.

Firstly, our DISMUS special session “Recasting Music: Body, Mind, Ability” will take place on Saturday, November 8, 8-11 p.m. There will be short papers from Michael Bakan, Stephanie Jensen-Moulton, Jessica Holmes, Blake Howe, Jennifer Iverson, and Joseph N. Straus, followed by interactive discussion with 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). Please consider donating as you are able to our respondents honoraria, using the first ‘sticky’ post on this blog. We are grateful for any donation amount. Questions/concerns can be directed to Jennifer Iverson (

Secondly, there will be three papers on AMS panels that are of interest to our group members (abstracts can be found on the AMS page):

David VanderHamm, “Sounding the Limits: Technology, Virtuosity, and Disability”

“Through an analysis of performances by Tony Melendez and John Gomm, and in conversation with recent scholarship in disability and performance studies, I argue that virtuosity and disability function through a codependent logic of limits regarding technologies and bodies. [...] Performing virtuosity simultaneously with disability points to the precariousness of performance and the centrality of the body, while providing ways of valuing musical labor that include but ultimately overflow the category of the aesthetic. The reception of music by Melendez and Gomm emphasizes the ways that audiences value music not just as a product, but as the action of skilled bodies. Disability and virtuosity are perhaps most joined in the ways they require envisioning new and often individual forms of embodied, creative practice.

William Cheng, “Staging Overcoming: Disability, Meritocracy, and the Envoicing of American Dreams”

“My paper explores how American reality singing competitions manufacture, stage, and exploit spectacles of disability and overcoming via appeals to musical meritocracy. As a pervasive—but rarely interrogated—organizational force in contemporary capitalist societies, meritocracy teases utopian notions of nondiscrimination, claiming evaluative processes that aspire to fairness: “blind” orchestra auditions, “double-blind” peer-reviews of articles and abstracts, “need-blind” college admissions—it is neither incidental nor coincidental that metaphors of (sight) impairment abound in descriptions of antiprejudicial procedures. [...] By lending an ear to reality competitions’ affective currencies, my project broadly illuminates the connections and collisions between disability’s gritty realities and meritocracy’s glossy ideals in musical media of late modernity.”

Marianne Kielian-Gilbert, “‘Compassion with the Abyss': Sensory Estrangement in Britten’s Late Works”

“Britten’s melodic-harmonic-rhythmic inversions call attention to the difference, sensory strangeness and perceptual distortion of exact intervallic inversion in a tonal and temporal context and alternately motivate listeners to re-turn tonally oriented patterning as inversionally configured. Working from the idea that the labors of mu- sic analysis and experience implicate relational (social-cultural) dimensions, I consid- er ways that Britten’s “inversional” strategies differ from such practices as harmonic dualism (Tymoczko 2011), inversional balance (Lewin 1968) and disability hearing (Straus 2011), gender (a)symmetry (Scherzinger 1997), prolongational effect (Forrest 2010), and/or the aesthetics of mirror inversion (Cone 1967).”

Finally, there will be a happy hour on Saturday, 5-6pm. Small groups will most-likely depart from the happy hour to have dinner informally. The happy hour conflicts with the AMS business meeting from 5:30-7pm. There will be no breakfast meeting, despite the fact that it is in the program for Friday AM. We welcome feedback and ideas during the Saturday evening happy hour 5-6 pm, dinner hour, and margins of the evening panel 8-11 pm.

Guest Post by Stefan Honisch: “Musical experience as a Mode of Consciousness: The Pedagogy of ‘Deaf Men Dancing’ “

The following post by Stefan Sunandan Honisch is the next installment of our guest blog series on music and disability, which features the work and activities of scholars involved with music and disability studies. Stefan Honisch is a music and disability studies scholar, an accomplished pianist, and a PhD Candidate at the Center for Cross Faculty Inquiry in Education, University of British Columbia.

“Musical experience as a Mode of Consciousness: The Pedagogy of ‘Deaf Men Dancing’ “

     Among the urgent critical tasks performed by recent Music and Disability Studies scholarship is a reckoning with the forms of exclusion on which normative accounts of musical experience depend. Musical experience, normatively conceived, has placed participation in musical activity along a frequently inaccessible continuum of ability spanning the “normal” and the “severe” (an allusion to Paul Longmore’s memorable formulation “the severely able-bodied;” see Garland-Thomson, 2005, p. 33). In this way, formal instruction in music has been made available to the disabled body only to the extent that a person who inhabits such a body successfully manages to overcome its limitations, and to gain access, as far as possible, to such forms of (attenuated) musical experience as the inability to see, hear, or move “normally” permit.

    Joseph Straus (2011) has developed a capacious theoretical framework for understanding the multiple ways in which people with disabilities, including musicians and non-musicians, make sense of music not in spite of sensory, cognitive, and physical disabilities, but rather because of these differences: disability, in other words, makes rich, lively, and unfamiliar musical experiences possible. Straus’ exploration of “Deaf Hearing,” in particular, destabilizes the long-standing assumption that deafness, “a life of total silence” (p.167) is antithetical to musical experience thereby offering a useful entry point to the following discussion of Deaf Hearing in performance.

BBC’s “Ouch” blog offers commentary on a range of disability issues. A recent posting about the recently-formed dance ensemble “Deaf Men Dancing” (available at: demonstrates the importance of finding more opportunities to connect formal music pedagogy, historically an enterprise that normalizes musical experience (Straus, 2011, p.150) with modes of musical experience that do not always fit comfortably within the various sub-fields of music studies, and, in point of fact, may even call into question some of the most fundamental assumptions about music as primarily aural, or as some combination of the aural and the visual (as in the case of musical performance; see Howe, 2010; Lerner, 2006; Straus, 2011). The question with which the disabled body confronts music pedagogy is: where is the space for music as a fully embodied practice in which different bodies can be included?

Mark Smith, the founder of “Deaf Men Dancing,” recollects that, having lost his hearing in childhood, “I ran over to the piano…]” and put my hand on it to feel the vibrations of the music” (Vibrations from floor help dance troupe keep time, para.1) raises pressing questions about the complex position of deafness in relation to musical experience (Maler, 2013; Straus, 2011; Wood, 2009). The blog post locates Mark Smith’s role as both a dancer and an educator, in which latter capacity he works with deaf people, enabling them to learn expressive movement. However, it seems to me that the educational work done by Smith, and by the ensemble as a whole, extends well beyond their collaborative work together, and instead opens up pedagogical spaces for their audiences. This aspect of “Deaf Men Dancing” is briefly mentioned in the blog posting, in reference to the idea that their work helps audiences gain a measure of understanding of what musical experience through deafness is like (para. 6 & 10). Again, however, it seems to me there are larger transformations in understanding to be gained from encountering their work, ones which get at the very heart of what musical experience means.

Through their commitment to asking what music feels like (a question that the career of Evelyn Glennie also raises; see Glennie’s “Disability Essay”), “Deaf Men Dancing” teaches us that apparently common-sense definitions of ability and disability sometimes transform musical experience into a space of needless silence, of unnecessary exclusion. The different modes of consciousness (to invoke the phrase from Peirce’s anecdote) that make music mean something to people with different eyes, ears, and bodies, whether in the home, the classroom or the concert hall, merit greater inclusion in how music is taught, learned, and experienced. The work of this dance troupe reminds me of an anecdote related by the American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce (1893), worth quoting in full:

A friend of mine, in consequence of a fever, totally lost his sense of hearing. He had been very fond of music before his calamity; and strange to say, even afterwards would love to stand by the piano when a good performer played. So then, I said to him, after all you can hear a little. Absolutely not at all, he replied; but I can feel the music all over my body. Why, I exclaimed, how is it possible for a new sense to be developed in a few months! It is not a new sense, he answered. Now that my hearing is gone I can recognize that I always possessed this mode of consciousness, which I formerly, with other people, mistook for hearing.

This vignette offers a way to situate the work of “Deaf Men Dancing” within a larger terrain defined by resistance against the idea of disability as loss. Peirce’s friend showed him, and Peirce shows us, how to embrace bodily difference, in this case deafness, as a “mode of consciousness” instead of clinging to the familiar idea that the loss of a sensory ability negatively impacts musical experience.

Guest Post by Jennifer Iverson: Intersections of Disability Studies, Neurodiversity, and Neuroscience

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.

Announcement: New Film about Moondog, “The Viking of Sixth Avenue”

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 CockerJohn ZornDebbie Harry, Damon AlbarnPhilip Glass and many more.” Additional information about the forthcoming film is featured on the official Facebook page and web site.

Disability News for AMS/SMT 2014: Accessibility Pledge

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.

Guest Post by Meghan Schrader, announcing the newly-formed Society for Disability Studies Interest Group on Disability and Music

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, Jessica Holmes (jessica.holmes at, and Dana Gorzelany-Mostak (dana.gorzelany-mostak at by October 31, 2014. The Society for Disability Studies Music Interest Group also has a Facebook presence.