Dear MDSG members and followers,
I hope this message finds you well and enjoying the summer. I want to take the opportunity to introduce myself as the incoming Chair of the AMS Music and Disability Study Group (MDSG) by way of highlighting upcoming Study Group initiatives ahead of our November 2018 society meeting in San Antonio, Texas. As a scholar of music and disability, I have long benefited from the generous mentorship of the pioneering scholars involved with our Study Group. I am thus honoured to give back through my leadership, and excited to see what the future holds for our group!
First, I want to say a special thank you to my predecessor and outgoing Co-Chair, Samantha Bassler, whose inimitable leadership of our Study Group over many years helped raise the profile of the MDSG within the discipline. I am forever indebted to her for having groomed me for the Chairship, and for her creativity, diligence, shrewd insights, camaraderie, and compassion. We are all grateful to you, Samantha, for your invaluable service, and I am determined to carry out your legacy as I take over the Study Group leadership. We wish you all the best in your future endeavours, and are excited for your continued involvement with our community.
During my tenure as Chair, I am especially keen to forge collaborative ties with other AMS Study Groups. My primary motivation stems from a desire to strengthen the interdisciplinary strands of our collective and individual research expertise in music and disability; fuel the intellectual curiosities of our Study Group’s existing membership; and generate new political and scholarly interest in disability among society members beyond the MDSG core. By way of example, last year’s AMS meeting in Rochester, NY featured a record number of concurrent panel sessions addressing intersectionality vis-à-vis myriad subaltern perspectives including race, gender, sexuality, religion, ecocriticism, and disability. I was encouraged by this timely common attention to intersectionality and diversity. However, I was also concerned that such scheduling conflicts, while often unavoidable, sometimes cause our Study Groups and scholarship to become siloed, despite our shared values and mutual interests. Creating opportunities to explore these points of convergence is all the more vital given what many scholars have observed is disability’s symbolic status relative to other positions of marginality and categories of identity: Tobin Siebers contends (drawing on the work of David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder) that “disability is the master trope of human disqualification, not because disability theory is superior to race, class, or sex/gender theory, but because all oppressive systems function by reducing human variation to deviancy and inferiority defined on the mental and physical plane” (Siebers 2010; Mitchell & Snyder 2000). Disability thus needs to figure equally in discussions on diversity within our society. I am confident that establishing relationships with the other Study Groups will help centralize our scholarship within the discipline, while providing new opportunities for us to grow in our collective understanding of disability and music.
As part of our efforts to foster these connections, I am excited to report that our meeting in San Antonio will feature a special evening panel session on “Music, Disability, and the Environment: Bridging Scholarship with Activism,” co-hosted by the AMS and SMT Music and Disability Study Groups, and the AMS Ecocriticism Study Group. Since its inception, disability studies has had strong ties to activism. In her groundbreaking study of the field, Simi Linton describes disability studies as a “juncture that can serve both academic discourse and social change,” a means of holding the academy accountable for the social consequences of our research and teaching (Linton 1998). Similarly, scholars of ecocriticism have long recognized the need to “reflect upon, when it comes to the effectuality of their product, the character and quality of their ecological engagement” (Major and McMurry 2012). Disability studies and ecocriticism also share a critical attention to the built environment, whether as a structure that disables and enables human bodies, or as one that interacts with and integrates into existing ecosystems. By bringing disability studies, ecocriticism, and music research into new dialogue, the session aims to explore our relationship to activism as music scholars involved in personal and professional engagements with disability and/or the environment, and to generate new thinking around the human and environmental impact of music’s built-in infrastructures. In the coming weeks, I will write a separate post announcing the panel, along with our list of speakers and their presentation topics.
In recent years, our Study Group WordPress site has featured a series of guest blog posts written by members of our community. The blog has been a valuable means through which to learn about the breadth of scholarly and creative work being conducted on music and disability, and has facilitated numerous networking and mentorship opportunities for junior and senior scholars alike. I am pleased to report that we will resume our blog series in the coming weeks, and have several engaging pieces planned for the summer months. The enlisted writers and topics of the upcoming posts reflect a desire on a part of the MDSG leadership to broaden our geographical horizons by liaising with and learning from musicians and scholars undertaking disability-related work beyond Canada, the US, and the UK. I look forward to sharing their exciting work with you in the coming weeks!
In the meantime, please feel free to write me with your ideas, feedback, and/or questions. We are eager to learn about your work, and to know how we can better support you.
With my warmest wishes,
American Musicological Society Music and Disability Study Group (MDSG)
Jessica Holmes is a Postdoctoral Fellow of Musicology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in the Herb Alpert School of Music. She specializes in music, disability, and embodiment, with notable expertise in deafness and the senses. Her published work on music and disability appears in the Journal of the American Musicological Society, Ethnomusicology Review, and Sound Studies. Her book project, Music at the Margins of Sense – under contract with the University of Michigan press for their newly-established “Music & Social Justice” series – engages the misconceptions and stereotypes associated with deafness through the first-hand musical accounts of d/Deaf musicians and listeners in an effort to pluralize existing conceptions of musical expertise. She is currently co-editing a special issue on “Music, Voice, and Disability” for the Journal of Interdisciplinary Voice Studies (forthcoming 2019). As part of her academic appointment at UCLA, Jessica also teaches methodology courses in musicology, as well as topical courses in music & disability at the graduate and undergraduate levels.