Agenda and Program for the Music and Disability Study Group events at AMS 2015

Greetings! The annual AMS conference is nearly upon us, and it promises to be a stimulating and exciting event. Please find attached the program for the evening session, “What is Accessible Musicology?” (on Thursday, 12 November, from 8–11pm), and the agenda for the business meeting (on Saturday, 14 November, from 7:30–8:45am).

Safe travels to everyone attending the conference, and we will see you in Louisville!

2015 Program and Business Meeting Agenda

Music and Disability Events at AMS in Louisville,

The Music and Disability Study Group (MDSG) is pleased to announce the following papers and meetings at the American Musicological Society annual meeting in Louisville (12–15 November), which will be of interest to scholars of music and disability.

  1. The MDSG is sponsoring a session, “What Is Accessible Musicology?”, which will be held during the Thursday evening session, from 811pm in the Laffoon room. In this session, musicologists will present their unique perspectives on the intersections between disability, accessibility, and musicology.
    • James Deaville (Carleton University): “A Matter of Class? Musicology and Us”
    • William Cheng (Dartmouth College): “Sounding Good: Musicology, Rhetoric, and Repair”
    • Meghan Schrader (University of New Hampshire): “Tasting the Forbidden Fruit: Verbal Learners and the Construction of New Music Pedagogy at the Crossroads of Music History and Theory”
    • Daniel Barolsky (Beloit College): “Excluding Audiences: The Pedagogy of Inclusive Listening”
    • Andrew Dell’Antonio (University of Texas at Austin): “Public Musicology as Accessible Musicology: Reflections on The Avid Listener’s First Year”
  2. The MDSG business meeting will be held on the Saturday morning of the conference, from 7:30-8:45am (McCreary Room). An agenda will be posted prior to the start of the conference. Please e-mail Samantha (s.e.bassler at merton dot oxon dot org) if you have an item of business for the meeting.
  3. There are a number of other sessions and panels featured on the AMS program, which pertain to music and disability studies.
  • During the Thursday afternoon session (Breathitt Room, 2-5pm), there will be a panel, “Listening beyond Hearing: Music and Deafness,” chaired by Andrew Dell’Antonio (University of Texas at Austin), and featuring the following papers:
    • Anabel Maler (University of Chicago), “Music and the Deaf Experience in Nineteenth-Century America”
    • Jessica Holmes (McGill University), “‘How to Truly Listen’? Resisting an Idealized Sense of the Deaf Body”
    • Katherine Meizel (Bowling Green State University), “Two Voices: Singers in the Hearing/ Deaf Borderlands”
    • Jeannette Jones (Boston University), “‘Hearing Deafly’: Reshaping the Geography of Sound in the Body”
  • On the Friday afternoon of the conference, J. Griffith Rollefson (University College Cork, National University of Ireland) will present a paper entitled, “‘Got a Freaky, Freaky, Freaky, Freaky Flow’: Theorizing ‘Illness’ in Hip Hop” (2-3:30pm, Coombs Chandler Room).
  • During the evening session on the Saturday of the conference (Breathitt Room, 7:30-9:30pm), the Ludomusicology Study Group Inaugural Meeting will include a paper by Dana Plank-Blasko (Ohio State University), entitled “Paging Dr. Mario: Physical Impairment, Illness, and Disability in the Video Game Soundscape”.

Please e-mail Samantha (s.e.bassler at merton dot oxon dot org) to publicize any other details about music and disability events at AMS.

DISMUS at SMT St. Louis

The DISMUS interest group will meet on Saturday Noon – 2 p.m. at the Society for Music Theory 2015 annual meeting in St. Louis. In the first hour, we will have our business meeting, including briefings on current projects and time to develop new collaborations and proposals. In the second hour, we will discuss Chapter 2 “Dismodernism Reconsidered” from Lennard Davis‘s The End of Normal.

End of NormalWe issue an open call for respondents, who will prepare a 5-minute response that engages Davis’s dismodernism essay from their own individual perspective. Come one, come all! We invite you to volunteer to give a short response, or simply to read this provocative essay and contribute to the discussion on Saturday October 31. Register your participation or direct questions to Jennifer Iverson (jennifer-iverson -at- and Bruce Quaglia (bruce.quaglia -at-

The Americans with Disabilities Act Turns 25

We have recently passed the 25th anniversary of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which mandated inclusive environments. News coverage abounded, including this PBS NewsHour video: 25 years on, celebrating ADA’s advances while facing stubborn barriers. This audience will be particularly interested in the profile of cyborg drummer Jason Barnes that begins at about 3:00 into the video.

President Obama gathered stakeholders for a celebratory speech in the East Room of the White House. The New York Times hosted a round-table discussion via short essays by prominent activists and scholars. Though commentators heap praise on the rise of the disability rights movement, all are quick to point out that there is still much progress to be gained. Among them, Rosemarie Garland-Thomson writes, “We must now work together to make disability inclusion seen as a resource gain, not a resource drain.”

What do you think? How did you celebrate the 25th birthday of the ADA? Has the ADA made the world a substantially better place? What is the most crucial dimension for progress right now?

Conference Report: Music and Disability at the Society for American Music 2015

The next feature in our series of guest blog posts is by Michael Accinno, a doctoral candidate in musicology at the University of California at Davis. His previous studies include a bachelor’s degree in voice from Rice University, and a master’s in musicology from the University of Iowa. Accinno’s research focuses on music and politics, the reconstruction era, and disability studies, and has given papers on such topics at the Society for American Music, the CUNY Graduate Center Symposium on Music and Disability, and the UC Davis Interdisciplinary Graduate Student Symposium.

Is disability studies still an “emerging” area of research within musicology? At what point do we get to take the training wheels off and acknowledge that critical discussions of disability—like gender, sexuality, and race—are simply part of what we do as scholars? I often find myself renewing these questions whenever I attend academic conferences, and this month’s annual meeting of the Society for American Music (SAM) was no exception.

Encompassing the study of the music of the Americas, SAM has always included a dizzying array of places, styles, and peoples. Reflecting this eclecticism, papers at this year’s conference attended to disability in in varying guises, with stops along the way in film music (Neil Lerner’s discussion of “overcoming” in the 1945 film “Pride of the Marines”); jazz (Eduardo López-Dabdoub on the blind saxophonist Rahsaan Roland Kirk and the performance of disability); musical theater; hip-hop (Elyse Marrero’s engaging presentation on ASL interpreters and Hip Hop); and New England psalmody (my own paper on music at the Perkins School for the Blind).

A special seminar on disability and musical theater opened the door to a rich new potential area for further research. Organized by James Leve (Northern Arizona University), the seminar format included several long-established scholars who—in an important step forward for our subfield—contributed position papers about disability for the first time. Paul Laird (University of Kansas) provided a compelling critique of Nessarose and Elphaba, the two disabled female characters in Stephen Schwartz’s musical Wicked; Raymond Knapp (UCLA) reflected on a symposium he organized on Deaf West [link: Theatre’s production of Big River; Lauren Acton (York University) discussed representations of mental illness at the 2014 Stratford Festival in Canada; Steve Swayne (Dartmouth) explored Lucy Barker’s poisoning in Sweeney Todd; Last but not least, James Leve discussed Charlie and Algernon, a 1970s-era musical in which the title character Charlie (a man with down syndrome) is juxtaposed troublingly with Algernon (a laboratory mouse).

In an extended conversation period that followed the papers, several discussants encouraged the presenters to consider critiques raised within disability studies: what role (or lack thereof) do disability activists and actors play in theatrical representations of disability? To what extent do musical theater narratives, like literary narratives, function as a form of prosthesis? Finally, how can scholars, activists, and audiences use musical theater to imagine an inclusive future with disabled people rather than an ableist future without them?

The conversation sparked by these questions is still “emerging” for music theater scholars (let’s not shed the label just yet!). Nevertheless, musicals—Broadway, fringe, regional, and otherwise—have the promise to enliven and inform critiques of staged representations of disability for years to come.

What good news do you bring?

Samantha Bassler:

This post was originally posted on Phil Ford’s blog, Dial “M” for Musicology: Music, Musicology, and Related Matters. This is re-posted with permission from Phil, an associate professor of musicology at the Indiana University. Phil is the author of Dig: Sound and Music in Hip Culture (Oxford University Press, 2013), and articles the Journal of Musicology, Jazz Perspectives, Musical Quarterly, among other scholarly journals.

Originally posted on Dial M for Musicology:

Warning: this post is very long, rather serious, and takes a break from my ongoing series on Sun Ra’s Space is the Place. I will get back to that forthwith. But today, though, I want to write about something else, namely mental illness.


A talk by Peter Railton has been making the philosophy social-media rounds lately. The talk (“Innocent Abroad: Rupture, Liberation, and Solidarity”) deals with a familiar theme, the relationship of social engagement and the life of the mind, and develops it through a series of autobiographical vignettes. Some of these take place against the background of large public events — Sputnik, the civil rights movement, the Columbia student strike — and some of them belong to the more private domain of student advising, collegial conversation, and committee service. The common thread that runs through them all is the sense that, when we meet a moment of moral challenge, we cannot evade the responsibility to…

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Electronic Textbooks and Accessibility

Joseph Straus asked me to post the following to the blog, in order to ensure the widest possible readership. You can respond with comments to the blog post, which Joe can access, or you can e-mail him (his e-mail is easily found via Google searches).


Dear colleagues,

I need your advice.

Poundie Burstein and I are writing a new harmony text for Norton, which is eager to make the book fully accessible. For the ebook version of the text, Norton is looking into using alt text for the musical examples (i.e. text that a screen reader can read when a student reaches an example on the page). Apparently this is somewhat controversial and some people find recordings preferable to alt text.

Have you had experience with alt text for musical examples?
Would you be willing to share that experience with me and with Norton?
Or do you know someone who has had experience whom I might contact?

More broadly, can you think of accessibility issues you have faced with previous harmony texts you have used, and ways that Norton might effectively handle those issues?

I would be grateful for your guidance.

Joe Straus