Recent Research in Music & Disability Studies (AMS Study Group Special Session)

At the AMS Annual Meeting in Pittsburgh, the Music & Disability Study Group will host a workshop and discussion forum on four papers by Christopher Macklin, Samantha Bassler, Stefan Honisch, and Neil Lerner. You can access the papers here, on the Music and Disability website. Attendees are encouraged to read and prepare responses to the papers in advance. After the workshop, the Study Group will host a brief business meeting to discuss ongoing projects related to accessibility issues, mentorship, and professional support.

The special session will be held on Friday, November 8, at 8 p.m. in Grand Ballroom 4.

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Disability Studies Events at SMT

Please join us for the following DISMUS events at the 2013 SMT conference in Charlotte, NC (Oct. 31 – Nov. 3):

Friday 5-6 p.m., Support Network Happy Hour Gathering (Lobby Bar).             All are welcome!

Friday 8-11 p.m., “Universal Design in the Music Theory and Aural Skills Classrooms” (Harris). Presenters include: Jon Kochavi, Laurel Parsons, Bruce Quaglia, Kati Meyer, and Robert Gross. There will be small-group discussion and workshop time; bring your syllabi!

Saturday 7-9 a.m., DISMUS Interest Group Breakfast Meeting (College). Pastries and coffee will be served–please consider donating toward the cost. 7-8 a.m. will be our usual organizational meeting; contact Jennifer Iverson with agenda items for discussion. 8-9 a.m. will be a joint panel with the WorkFam group on the topic “Balancing Work and Long Term Care of a Family Member.” Invited Panelists include Cynthia Folio, Jon Kochavi, and Jeff Gillespie.

New Feature: Database of Musical Representations of Disability

I’m pleased to announce the debut of the Musical Representations of Disability Database. Updated regularly with contributions from its users, the database organizes musical works that feature a representation of disability or a disabled person. The expansive nature of this list—covering diverse composers, genres, and time periods—demonstrates the pervasiveness of disability within musical discourses. It is my hope that this will be a valuable tool for music scholars interested in the history of disability representation.

The database depends on its users to continually expand, emend, and improve its content. Please SUBMIT a new entry or EMEND an existing entry. We have about 230 entries so far—but this is just a quick first pass through the repertoire. Hopefully we’ll be able to double (or triple?) its content by the end of the school year.

Accessibility: Theoretical and Applied Approaches, by Kendra Preston Leonard

Kendra Preston Leonard’s essay on accessibility is the second installment of guest blog posts by scholars of music and disability studies. Kendra Preston Leonard is a musicologist and editor with interests in music and disability, women and music, and music and screen history. She is the Founder and Director of the Silent Film Sound and Music Archive.

At the several music and disability sessions and panels I’ve attended in the last couple of years at AMS, SMT, SAM, and SEM, I’ve been struck by the fact that a large number of scholars who attend these sessions are often foremost seeking guidance, suggestions, and observations on accessibility and other “applied” issues: how to improve learning outcomes for differently abled students. While many of these instructors stay and become interested in the more theoretical work we do in examining the construction and portrayal of disability in music, their initial concerns tend to be centered on practical questions of pedagogy and disability, or, for advanced students, conferences attendance and disability.  Much of our work is informed by theoretical aspects of , even if we never quite term it as such.It became clear to me  in observing these scholars and their interests, as well as in dialogue with my colleagues in music and disability studies, that we (as individuals, as a Study Group, and in terms of our societies) could be doing much more to improve applied accessibility. Therefore, I’m very pleased to say that I’ll be chairing a new subcommittee of the Music and Disability Study Group, the Ad Hoc Committee on accessibility. This committee will meet for the first time at AMS, with the following goals: evaluation of the current AMS Guidelines on accessibility, reviewing comments in post-conference surveys on accessibility issues, monitoring accessibility issues at the Pittsburgh meeting;, and surveying members of the Study Group about accessibility concerns. I hope that everyone reading will include their comments on accessibility in the post-conference survey that will follow the 2013 meeting, and encourage their colleagues and students—even those without a scholarly or personal stake in our subfield—to do the same. Our questions are crucial ones, and will enable the Study Group to be more aware of the kinds of issues those with disabilities face when attending national meetings or interacting with our societies. Additionally, the Study Group surveys will help make recommendations for future meetings and guide future policies on accessibility for the AMS and other academic societies.

We are making strides in applied accessibility issues. Shortly after receiving word that the panel I had organized with James Deaville, Stephanie Jenson-Moulton, and Jeannette Jones,  “Music and Disability on Screen” (Thursday, 8:00 p.m., Rivers Room), had been accepted for this year’s AMS meeting, I began to make inquiries at the national office as to what it would take to have the session recorded. I volunteered that I would later transcribe it so that both audio-video and text-based forms could be posted online in order to provide accessibility to the session’s contents for those interested. I figured that perhaps this session, and my unrelenting stream of emails, might bring the AMS somewhat more into line with the accessibility initiatives that its sister societies were already putting into place. After all, SEM was able to negotiate a special deal with Indiana Conferences to stream the majority of its sessions at the three-society meeting in 2012, which increased the accessibility scholars had to those sessions; and this year SMT not only has a session on “Universal Design in the Music Theory and Aural Skills Classrooms” (Friday 8-11 p.m., Harris Room), which is all about accessibility, but is also live-streaming and archiving a limited number of 2013 conference sessions. I was delighted that the AMS agreed to buy a digital recorder for use in my session this year, and, I hope for use in future sessions.

The AMS did have two other concerns: those of copyright infractions and the rights of participants in the session. We therefore agreed that I would edit out the screen clips presenters will use to avoid any copyright problems, and that we will announce at the beginning of the session that recording will be taking place and that any attendees not wanting to appear should notify me so that I can remove any footage of them from the final video.

In general, I found that the AMS is somewhat behind in its initiatives and commitment to addressing accessibility issues in comparison to SMT and SEM. The mission of the Ad Hoc Committee on accessibility is not just a fact-finding one, but also one in which we are hoping to provide the AMS’s officers and board members with a thorough understanding of how much accessibility issues curtail the ability of members to attend and participate. I look forward to hearing from readers of this blog as to their concerns and suggestions for the Ad Hoc Committee on Accessibility.

Nineteenth-Century Perspectives on Deafness and Music: An Introduction, by Anabel Maler

Anabel Maler’s essay on nineteenth-century American deafness and music is the first installment in a series of blog posts written by members of the disability and music scholarly community. Anabel Maler is a PhD student in Music Theory at the University of Chicago, and a member of the Society for Music Theory Interest Group in Music and Disability. If you are interested in writing a blog entry, please contact Samantha Bassler, the Social Media Officer, at samanthaebp at gmail.com .

When the topic of my research comes up in conversation, I always pay careful attention to peoples’ reactions when I describe my work on music, deafness, and sign language. Some react with pleasant surprise and excitement at what is perceived to be an unusual area of interest.

Others express their skepticism about whether the deaf can really experience music, or create it through sign language. Of course, possibly the most common reaction of all is to make a reference to this scene from Mr. Holland’s Opus: http://youtu.be/e3rjthuTCFM.

The second reaction is the one that interests me right now, because although many people have responded to my projects with skepticism, this reaction still manages to take me by surprise. The concept that deaf people cannot experience music, or can only experience it through technological intervention, is one that seems ingrained in our culture, and that usually goes unquestioned. For my next research project, I decided to go back to the nineteenth century to try to find the roots of our attitudes towards deafness and music. My questions about the historical relationship of music and deafness has led to many hours perusing issues of nineteenth-century American journals on deaf education, and I would like to present some of my findings here. First, though, a brief explanation of nineteenth-century American views on deafness and education is in order.

There were two main methods of deaf education in nineteenth-century America: in one corner, the manualists, and in the other corner, the oralists. In 1817, Reverend Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet founded the first school for deaf students in the United States: the American Asylum for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb in Hartford, Connecticut. The school’s head teacher was the deaf Parisian schoolteacher Laurent Clerc, who used sign language to instruct his students at the American Asylum. This manner of instructing deaf students was known as the manual method. For the first half of the nineteenth century, the manual method flourished in America, led by Gallaudet’s son, Edward Miner Gallaudet.

By the mid-nineteenth century, another method of deaf education entered the American consciousness: the oral method, led by Alexander Graham Bell. Proponents of the oral method forbade the use of sign language in their classrooms, instead focusing all of their attention on teaching speech and lip-reading. Deaf Americans thus found themselves at the center of a heated debate in the latter part of the nineteenth century.

You may know Bell as the inventor of the telephone, but there are a couple of other things to know about A.G.:

  1. He was a supporter and practitioner of the oralist method of deaf education.

  2. He was also a supporter of the eugenicist movement, although presumably he wasn’t a practitioner of that one (I hope). Alarmed by the tendency of the deaf to intermarry, Bell feared that allowing the deaf to continue forming communities that communicated via sign language would lead to the formation of a “deaf race.”

While manualist instructors were concerned with the moral and religious education of the children in their care, oralists were mostly interested in assimilating deaf people into hearing society. These views were reflected in how the two types of educators thought about music in relation to deafness. For example, in 1848 W.W. Turner wrote the following in a manualist publication:

“If the question be raised, ‘Cui bono?’—what possible benefit can result from teaching music to the deaf or from exercising them in musical performances when learned?—it may be answered: What benefit is ever derived from teaching music? It is a source of intellectual gratification. It is a means of intellectual cultivation.”

Oralists, by contrast, viewed music as completely absent from the lives of the deaf before technological intervention. Let’s look at a quote from an article called “Music for the Deaf and Dumb,” published in 1897:

“With the aid of Professor McKendrick’s invention deaf persons can attend the opera and occupy their boxes in any part of the house, however remote. They can dress as others dress, converse as others converse, do as others do, with nothing conspicuous about them, differing thus from other deaf process treatment. […] This applies to all deaf people and especially to the deaf and dumb who will, for the first time, enjoy musical rhythm and hear the notes of human warblers.”

Unlike manualists, oralists were not concerned with how the deaf could experience music on their own terms; rather, they wanted the deaf to experience music as hearing people did through technological innovations, in order to assimilate them into the hearing world. They saw this experience as the “first time” that the deaf were able to enjoy music, although it is clear from manualist publications that the deaf had been experiencing and enjoying music in other ways for many decades prior.

As the nineteenth century progressed, the oralist movement gained immense popularity and experienced several important victories, like the Milan Congress of 1880, the suppression of sign language such that by 1920 only 20 percent of deaf students were taught using sign, and the near-total purging of deaf teachers from schools for the deaf. At the same time, technological advancements made the oralists’ dream, for the deaf to experience music in the same way as the hearing, seem like it could become a reality. In 1883, A.G. Bell published his famous lecture on the formation of a deaf race, which fed into the public’s fear of a race seemingly without sound or music.

Although we have ceased to fear the development of a deaf race, and although sign language experienced a major comeback when it was finally recognized as a natural language, our present day views on deafness and music remain pretty much the same as they were in the late nineteenth century. While articles on music therapy and cochlear implants abound, scholarly articles on the deaf experience of music are rare, and as such, the history of music in Deaf culture remains a mystery. My hope is that researching music and deaf education in the nineteenth century will help fill some of the gaps in our knowledge, and eventually bring our understanding of music and deafness into the twenty-first century.