Music and Disability at the SDS (Society for Disability Studies)

We are pleased to announce that our panel entitled, “Music, Disability, and Freakery: Sustaining Able-bodiedness” was accepted for the upcoming Society for Disability Studies conference in Minneapolis (June 11-14, 2014). We hope to see some of you there!

“The Two-Headed Nightingale and the Marketing of Grotesque Respectability” (Dana Gorzelany-Mostak, Westminster Choir College of Rider University & Remi Chiu, Loyola University Maryland)

” ‘Asylums with Doors Open Wide’: Ian Curtis, “Atrocity Exhibition,” and the Myth of the Romantic Genius” (Mimi Haddon, McGill University)

” ‘I Feel Very Proud to be Hideous’: Bradford Cox and the Performance of Disability” (Jessica Holmes, McGill University)

” ‘All of us are Ahabs’: Jake Heggie’s Operatic Moby-Dick (Stephanie Jensen-Moulton, Brooklyn College, CUNY)

(Jessica Holmes, panel organizer/moderator)
Live music performance is a highly visual medium where extraordinary musical ability begets spectacle: the physicality of a virtuoso performer arguably plays as important a role in captivating an audience as the music itself. Visible disability only intensifies the spectacle inherent in music performance; a performer with culturally stigmatized bodily difference becomes even more the object of the gaze (Garland-Thomson; Howe; Straus). Likewise, fictional representations of disability in opera and on film tend to dramatize disability, strategically setting the disabled character apart by exaggerating bodily otherness with music figuring prominently in this characterization (Mitchell & Snyder; Leonard). Both in instances of disabled performance and fictional representations of disability, a version of disability identity is performed for and mediated by the onlooker, sustaining viewer normalcy and able-bodiedness.
This panel examines discrete episodes of musical “freakery” from the last two centuries, exploring how gender, race, and sexuality inform the cultural construction of the disabled freak and also highlighting the aural dimensions of this spectacle. Dana Gorzelany-Mostak and Remi Chiu analyze the musical exhibition of the conjoined twin singers Millie and Christine McCoy in relation to 19th-century conceptions of American personhood and racial identity. Mimi Haddon explores the impact early press reviews of Joy Division’s music had on the “enfreakment” of lead singer Ian Curtis, whose struggle with epilepsy and tragic suicide in 1980 have become so closely intertwined with discussions of the band’s oeuvre. Jessica Holmes considers the ways in which indie musician Bradford Cox flaunts his disabled body in an attempt to shock audiences, performing a transgressive reappropriation of “freakery” where sexual deviance is enmeshed with disability. Stephanie Jensen-Moulton examines how Jake Heggie’s idiosyncratic composition of Ahab in his operatic setting of Moby-Dick separates the man from his obsession, renegotiating operatic representations of madness.

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