AMS Music and Disability Study Group Blog

Welcome to the first in a series of blog posts from members of the AMS Music and Disability Study Group (MDSG) and the Society for Music Theory Music and Disability Interest Group (SMT MDIG). Each post will include information about the person’s research and history with the study/interest group, their future plans within music and disability studies, and their vision for the discipline. We intend for these blogs to appear in a monthly rhythm, and welcome responses and comments. Any questions about the blog series should be directed to its editor, James Deaville. We begin the series with a blog post by Samantha Bassler, co-chair of the MDSG.

Music and Disability at the American Musicological Society and the Intersection of Disability Activism and Music Studies

by Samantha Bassler

The inaugural meeting of the AMS music and disability study group was at the 2013 annual meeting in Pittsburgh, with a panel on recent research by Chris Macklin, Stefan Honisch, and myself, as well as a breakfast organizational meeting for business. Blake Howe delivered an introduction to music and disability studies, which was later published on the AMS blog, Musicology Now. Before the MSDG’s official formation as an AMS study group, many musicologists studying music and disability were active with the Society for Music Theory Interest Group on music and disability, founded by Joseph Straus, and joint AMS/SMT conferences included meetings with both musicologists and music theorists present. The 2016 publication of the Oxford Handbook of Music and Disability Studies includes contributions by both music theorists and musicologists.

The threefold mission of the MDSG highlights the scholarly and activist influence within our discipline and our Society, and through those means it intends to support disability studies and activism more broadly within the wider culture of the United States and beyond. We are an international group that uses music scholarship as our means to challenge the status quo and to augment traditional studies of music, but also as a lens through which to view culture and to advocate for the social model of disability. We want to make people aware of the discrimination faced by disabled populations, and also of the legal support enacted by governments to protect the rights of disabled people.

Presently, my academic work in music and disability studies is, broadly-speaking, to use disability as a lens for understanding cultural studies of music (mostly early-modern English music). I am currently working on a book chapter that explores disability and music as narrative devices within seventeenth-century English plays, and I am also in the early research stages of a monograph that explores the intersection of disability, gender, and musical performance in the early modern period. I have new ideas about the intersections of music and disability all the time, and think of new projects frequently. As a disability rights activist, I am an advocate and resource for fellow academics (and anyone else!) with autoimmune diseases and other invisible illnesses. Activism is an important component to disability studies, and I don’t think it is possible (or helpful!) to fully separate oneself from activism when doing scholarship about disability studies. I try to create accessible classes that integrate the wide range of students in them, and “out” myself as a disability rights activist at the beginning of each semester, in order to encourage students to acquire the appropriate accommodations for their disabilities and to ask me for help if they need it. I make sure my syllabi clearly state the name and location of the disability services offices at their university and explain the procedures for acquiring accommodations.

It is important to pursue activist work alongside our academic pursuits in disability studies, especially under the current political climate, but also because of the increased visibility of disability in popular culture. As musicologists and music theorists who conduct disability studies of music, we are responsible to (gently) remind our colleagues of ableism and of the accommodations and respect owed to students, colleagues, and others who are disabled. As an example, a recent opinion piece in The Guardian, written by Charlotte C. Gill, came under fire for insinuating that music notation is too elitist and exclusive. The author writes,

For a creative subject, music has always been taught in a far too academic way, meaning that theoretical knowledge is the main route to advancement. While there are routes into musical careers for the untrained, and many pop, rap and grime artists have never studied music formally, there are also dozens of choirs and amateur collectives that put a huge focus on musical notation.”

While many professional musicians and academics objected to this essay by signing a petition and a response in The Guardian, and even started spirited debates with the author on Twitter, there were those of us within the AMS MDSG who recognized a thread of disability throughout the piece. One paragraph struck me plainly as reading like the description of a possible disability:

“The patterns and figures of music don’t easily unravel in my mind. I suspect that’s the case for many other children and adults; some get notation, others don’t. Neither is indicative of talent, but while we do not find lateral, inclusive ways to engage people – as well as loosening our ideas of what constitutes musical ability – we are losing masses of would-be performers.”

Disability studies and activism enable us as academics to occupy two spaces with respect to the issues raised in this article. Not only are we music academics and professionals with an interest in upholding rigorous intellectual exchange within the academy, but we are also responsible for educating about music. An understanding of the accommodations required by different learning disabilities gives educators the tools to craft more accessible classrooms and courses so that no-one is excluded in music education or performance at any level.

The study group aspires to be as inclusive as its discipline, by encouraging the voices of disabled scholars and scholars of disability (and persons who are disabled and also scholars of disability) to participate and contribute their vantage points to the conversation of disability and music. To that end, we hold a CFP for our yearly meetings at the AMS and SMT, and also encourage our members to submit research in progress and posts to the blog.

Since this is my final year as chair of the study group, I defer to my successor, Jessica Holmes, to flesh out her vision for the group. I hope that the group will pursue values of inclusivity and scholarly rigor, that we will remain at the forefront of music and disability research and activism, and be the first port of call for anyone who is interested in pursuing research in music and disability studies. I end with a few suggestions for her and others to consider. Firstly, it would be wonderful to organize a conference on music and disability studies, sponsored by the MDSG, and perhaps integrating colleagues from the Society of Disability Studies, and of course the SMT Interest Group on Music and Disability. We could consult with our colleagues at the AMS Pedagogy Group for ideas on how best to organize the conference. Secondly, since we have had so many successful AMS and SMT study group sessions, it would be great to publish these as special journal issues, colloquia, or collected editions. More of our work needs to be in print or otherwise accessible to larger audiences. Finally, I challenge our group to continue building on our twinned values of activism and scholarship, within the AMS and more broadly within our disciplines of music studies.

Samantha Bassler is the co-chair of the AMS Music and Disability Study Group (AMS MDSG), having served first with Blake Howe from January 2015, then as sole chair from January 2016, and now with Jessica Holmes from January 2017, with her term officially ending in December 2017. Samantha’s first work on music and disability was published in the August 2009 issue of Music Theory Online, for a special issue on chronic illness and disability in music academia. Samantha later published on early modern music practice and disability in the journal postmedieval and in the Oxford Handbook of Music and Disability Studies, and another article on invisible illness and music in Voices: a World Forum on Music Therapy. Samantha is an adjunct professor at the music departments of NYU Steinhardt, Rutgers University at Newark, and Molloy College.

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Results of the Poll

Dear Esteemed Colleagues,

I’m writing to announce the results of our online poll for the AMS Music and Disability Study Group (AMS MDSG). Thank you to everyone who voted.

Firstly, our by-laws were passed unanimously. Thank you. These are always view them on the MDSG WordPress blog, on the left-hand column.

Secondly, the theme of next year’s special session at AMS Rochester will be on the intersections of music, disability, race, gender, and other related studies. This was overwhelmingly the most-requested focus. Other suggestions include to hire a guest speaker, and to have a poster session. I will be discussing these suggestions and any others you would like to send my way with my new co-chair and the other new leadership members.

Thirdly, I am happy to announce the new leadership joining myself, Jeannette Jones, and Michael Accinno this year. Jessica Holmes will be joining me as fellow co-chair, Beth Keyes will join as Secretary/Treasurer, and Michael will remain as social media officer. There were no additional nominations that were accepted, so these are the results of our election. Additionally, James Deaville has volunteered to assist Michael with the blog as Blog Editor and to help us solicit regular blog posts. Jeannette Jones will stay on as chair of the ad-hoc accessibility committee, but is working to transition this committee to be under the umbrella of the official AMS Board rather than just the study group. The terms will for leadership will continue to be for three years, and there will be new votes as needed. We encourage other members of the study groups to volunteer their services. The next votes will be in 2018, when I will transition off as chair, and Michael will transition off as social media officer.

We will publish bios for the returning and new officers of the MDSG, and would also like to publish bios for the returning and new officers of the MDIG (Music and Disability Interest Group of the SMT).

Thank you so much for your contributions to the poll, and for your continued work in our shared fields of interest within music studies. Please do not hesitate to e-mail me with any questions or concerns.

Very Best,

Samantha Bassler, Co-Chair, AMS Music and Disability Study Group,

with the leadership:

Jessica Holmes, Co-Chair

Michael Accinno, Social Media Officer

Beth Keyes, Secretary and Treasurer

James Deaville, Blog Editor

Jeannette Jones, Chair of the Ad-Hoc Accessibility Committee

CFP: Cripping the Music Theory/Music History Curriculum at AMS/SMT in Vancouver

CFP: Cripping the Music Theory/Music History Curriculum
Special session of the AMS and SMT groups on Music and Disability, AMS and SMT Joint Conference in Vancouver, 3–6 November 2016

The Oxford Handbook on Music and Disability Studies (2015) demonstrates how disability studies is a lens to understand music and cultural studies throughout music history, and how music and disability informs analyses of music. The book brings music and disability studies to a wider audience of music scholarship, and many contributors have entertained questions from peers who wish to bring music and disability into general music courses.

The AMS Study Group and SMT Interest Group on Music and Disability will sponsor a special session on music pedagogy and disability at the 2016 joint conference in Vancouver. We seek proposals on new ways to integrate music and disability as a common perspective within the standard core curriculum in music history and music theory, rather than relegate music and disability to special topics and seminar courses. We seek presentations from colleagues who already utilize this perspective in their routine teaching responsibilities, and we welcome submissions from younger scholars who would like to workshop their ideas for syllabi. We encourage submissions in a variety of formats, including duo presentations, short position papers, longer research papers, workshops, interviews, demonstrations, testimonials, videos, Skype presentations, surveys, and more.

Proposals should clearly describe (1) the argument you will make or the information you will convey, (2) the format you will use, and (3) the estimated duration of your presentation. Please limit proposals to 250 words. Send proposals to disability.and.music@gmail.com no later than 4 April 2016. Submissions (with identifying information removed) will be read by the organizers and chairs of the AMS and SMT music and disability study group and interest group: Samantha Bassler and Bruce Quaglia.

On Diagnosis and Invisible Illness

The following link is shared with permission from the author, Katherine Meizel, who is an assistant professor of ethnomusicology at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. Katherine recently gave a paper at AMS Louisville (2015) on music and deafness, “Two Voices: Singers in the Hearing/ Deaf Borderlands”, and is the author of  Idolized: Music, Media, and Identity in American Idol. In the article linked below, Katherine writes for Scope, the Stanford medical blog, about her experience obtaining diagnoses of invisible illnesses. Although this is not a musical article, it furthers important work in disability activism, and disability awareness, which are important goals of the Music and Disability Study Group and the Society for Music Theory Interest Group.

“Belief brings relief — and sadness — after decades of doubt”

News from the AMS Music and Disability Study Group

Greetings and Happy New Year!

I write to share some news from the AMS Music and Disability Study Group (MSDG), especially to those who weren’t able to attend AMS Louisville and our events there.

Firstly, as of 2016, I (Samantha Bassler) am now the chair of the study group. Jeannette DiBernardo Jones continues as the chair of the ad-hoc committee on accessibility and as our accessibility liaison with the AMS, and Michael Accinno has graciously agreed to serve as the social media officer. He and I will be updating the blog together this year, and next year he will take over the main duties.

Secondly, the MSDG introduced by-laws at our November 2015 meeting at the annual AMS conference. The By-Laws are available online here — DisMusBylaws — and we will also post another link that is easily accessible from the main page. We will leave them up for every member to review, and then conduct a vote at the AMS meeting in 2016 to either adopt or amend the by-laws. We will also provide a way for members who cannot attend to submit their vote online.

Thirdly, the MSDG has a very successful AMS conference this past year, with a well-attended panel on accessibility (many thanks to our panelists: Daniel Barolsky, William Cheng, James Deaville, Andrew Dell’Antonio, and Meghan Schrader), a panel on music and deafness (congratulations to Jeannette DiBernardo Jones, Anabel Maher, Jessica Holmes, and Katherine Meizel), and a lively breakfast business meeting. At the meeting, we discussed the new appointed officers, as well as the work accomplished in 2014-2015, which included the updated accessibility guidelines for the AMS, the publication of the Oxford Handbook on Music and Disability Studies, and new ventures in music and disability pedagogy.

On the topic of pedagogy, the MSDG is working closely with the Society for Music Theory Interest Group on Music and Disability (chair, Bruce Quaglia) to produce a panel on music, disability, and pedagogy for the AMS/SMT 2016. A full announcement and a CFP will be available on this web site and circulated widely in the next few weeks.

Please continue to check the blog regularly, and send myself (s.e.bassler at merton dot oxon dot org) any ideas for our on-going guest blog series on projects in music and disability studies.

Very best wishes, Samantha Bassler

Chair, AMS Study Group on Music and Disability Studies

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.