The agenda for today’s business meeting is below. We look forward to seeing everyone at C: Highland E/F from 12:15pm!
Greetings, colleagues! We are looking forward to catching up with many of you at this week’s AMS conference in Rochester. Please find the attached program for the AMS Music and Disability Study Group’s session, to be held on Thursday from 8–11 PM in C: Highland A/K.
In addition, the study group will hold its business meeting on Friday from 12:15–1:15 PM in C: Highland, E/F. Please check our website later this week for business meeting documents.
The SMT Interest Group on Music and Disability is pleased to announce the relaunch of its mentoring program. Our goal is to actively cultivate a support network to help scholars in their encounters with dis/ability. We pair interested individuals (faculty and graduate students) for the purpose of sharing stories, ideas, and information. The program is open to individuals affiliated with either AMS or SMT. These pairings might take the form of traditional mentor/mentee relationships with relatively senior faculty guiding relatively junior faculty or graduate students, or may take the form of partnerships between peers. The support network is fully intended to address both teaching challenges and personal-life challenges.
Who might benefit from participating in the support network? Anyone would who like advice, information, or support with respect to navigating disability in their personal, professional, and/or scholarly lives. For example, this might be someone who is teaching a student with a disability, or someone who is navigating disability in their own life or a family member’s.
Please note that the “mentoring” relationships we intend to cultivate in this network are mutually supportive and non-hierarchical. Any views and advice offered solely represent individuals’ opinions and do not represent the policies or views of the SMT or AMS, as per the mentoring policies of the SMT.
If you would like to form a sustaining contact with a fellow music scholar who has navigated disability-related issues, contact Anabel Maler (firstname.lastname@example.org). We will accommodate requests for confidentiality and specific mentors.
The SMT Interest Group on Music and Disability invites all interested SMT members to join us from 12:15 to 1:45 on Friday November 3rd in Studio E of the Renaissance Arlington Capital View Hotel for our annual group meeting. Please feel free to bring your lunch.
We will begin with a short business meeting that will last no more than fifteen minutes. This will then be followed by an informal seminar on The Intersections of Sound Studies and Disability Studies in Music that will last from 12:30 until approximately 1:45. We will be led for this seminar by noted authors Mara Mills (NYU) and Jonathan Sterne (McGill University) who will be joining us from The Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin where they are presently co-authoring a book on the history of time stretching and pitch shifting technology. Professors Mills and Sterne will be joining us via Skype. Sumanth Gopinath (University of Minnesota) and Jennifer Iverson (University of Chicago) will be our respondents, on site.
In preparation for this seminar, we ask that you read two short essays from the volume Keywords in Sound Studies: Chapter 4 (Mills) “Deafness,” and Chapter 6 (Sterne) “Hearing.” In addition, please also consider reading the recent essay “Dismediation: Three Proposals and Six Tactics,” co-authored by Mills and Sterne.
You can access these readings here:
Following the seminar, we will be holding an informal meet-and-greet happy hour from 5–6 p.m.
We continue with the third in the series of blog posts from officers of the Music and Disability Study Group (MDSG). As always, we welcome responses and comments. Any questions about the blog series should be directed to its editor, James Deaville.
Disability, Advocacy, and Musicology
by Michael Accinno
“Disability could never happen to me.” Like many nondisabled people, I often used this assumption to make sense of my early encounters with disability. Whether staring at classmates with down syndrome or walking by the sidewalk placards of homeless Vietnam War veterans, I learned to define the borders of disability by placing myself—and my loved ones—squarely on the outside. I was wrong. As my grandparents aged and developed chronic illnesses, I watched as they slowly transformed before my eyes. Their bodily impairments (cancer; strokes; paralysis) often necessitated accommodation (home health aides; walkers) and care. Suddenly, disability did not seem like such a distant possibility anymore.
I can’t say for sure whether these disability encounters were on my mind when I first came across Joseph Straus’s book Extraordinary Measures (2011) in my university’s library. Since then, however, as my involvement in disability studies in musicology has grown, I frequently revisit my prior experiences with disabled family members, colleagues, and fellow citizens, seeking to further interrogate my own biases and misconceptions. As a nondisabled scholar, I always assume that disabled people are the most reliable sources of knowledge about their musical experience. To paraphrase my colleague Jessica Holmes, disabled musicians are “expert listeners” whose intuitions have yet to fully enrich musicology and its practitioners (Holmes, 2016).
In my own research, I use disability as vehicle to explore the musical culture of the United States during the nineteenth century. In my chapter on organ grinders in the Oxford Handbook of Music and Disability Studies, I consider the role of disabled Union veterans, thousands of whom performed as street musicians in the aftermath of the U.S. Civil War. More recently, I have shifted focus, completing a dissertation that examines the education of blind musicians at American schools for the blind (Accinno 2016). Currently, I am in the early stages of revising my dissertation into a book, tentatively titled “Gestures of Inclusion: Blindness, Music, and Pedagogy in the United States.” In it, I explore the lives of four figures who shaped emergent social understandings of blindness and music in the United States: Fanny Crosby, the prolific blind hymn lyricist; Samuel Gridley Howe, social reformer and founder of the Perkins School for the Blind; John Sullivan Dwight, music critic and Perkins trustee; and Francis Joseph Campbell, a blind teacher and music director at Perkins.
As I imagine it, the AMS Music and Disability Study Group will continue to foster collaborative projects within and without the AMS. Our shared online bibliography has continued to expand, and remains an important resource for graduate seminars and for scholars considering a disability-related project (to submit an update, please click here.)
I echo Samantha Bassler’s suggestion of a standalone conference on music and disability, and I would be prepared to co-organize a panel on blindness or disability in the nineteenth century. In a future national meeting, I would also like to suggest that the Study Group sponsor a lecture-recital by a disabled musician. Such a performance could prove attractive to other segments of the Society’s membership (especially with a coveted day-time conference slot!). Lastly, I hope that we musicologists continue to partner with disability activists and communities—to listen patiently to their expertise, and to collaborate with them as requested. I am thinking in particular of Andrew Dell’Antonio’s recent work with autistic activists Amy Sequenzia and Elizabeth “Ibby” Grace—important models of collaboration that benefit scholars and disability activists in equal measure (Sequenzia, 2015; Dell’Antonio and Grace, 2016).
In closing, I return to my original conceit: disability can (and will) happen to me, some day. Until then, I pledge to used my privileged position as a scholar of disability to advocate for improved care, accommodation, and above all—acceptance.
Michael Accinno is the social media officer of the AMS Music and Disability Study Group. He has presented papers on music and disability at the American Musicological Society, the Society for American Music, and the Society for Disability Studies. Currently, he is serving as a Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Music at the University of California, Riverside.
Accinno, Michael. “Gestures of Inclusion: Blindness, Music, and Pedagogy in Nineteenth-Century Thought.” Ph.D. diss., University of California, Davis, 2016.
Dell’Antonio, Andrew and Elizabeth J. Grace. “No Musicking about Us without Us!” Journal of the American Musicological Society 69 (2016): 553–558.
Holmes, Jessica A. “Expert Listening beyond the Limits of Hearing: Music and Deafness.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 70 (Spring 2017): 171–220.
Straus, Joseph. Extraordinary Measures: Disability in Music. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.
Sequenzia, Amy. “Autistic and Epileptic, In a Rock Concert.” The Avid Listener, 26 October, 2015. http://www.theavidlistener.com/2015/10/autistic-and-epileptic-in-a-rock-concert.html
We continue with the second in the series of blog posts from officers of the Music and Disability Study Group (MDSG). We will be taking a break in July, and return with another blog post in August. As always, we welcome responses and comments. Any questions about the blog series should be directed to its editor, James Deaville.
My Path: Disability in the Academy
by James Deaville
My interest in disability (and music) was kindled in the aftermath of my first episode of clinical depression, which occurred over the holidays of 1999-2000. A cluster of distressing and tragic events in late 1999 conspired to push me over the edge – my genetic code predisposed me towards the condition, for both sisters and my mother struggled with severe depression. Once recovered – I had a recurrence in 2014-15 – I began to consider musicians who likewise had invisible disabilities, studying the impact of these hidden impairments upon their life and works and upon the judgments of society. This research led to my chapter on madness (and Robert Schumann and Wolf) in the Oxford Handbook of Music and Disability Studies, which had its origins in various papers I delivered about the medicalized myths surrounding Schumann’s madness. More recently, my attention has turned towards representations of madness in film, beginning with Schumann bio-pics, and now I have begun addressing how music supports such filmic narratives, for example in It’s a Wonderful Life (Georg Bailey’s manic episode in Pottersville).
I ventured into disability studies in music after having received tenure. Today, with the increasing validation of disability studies by organizations like the AMS and SAM and publications like JAMS and Journal of Musicology, young scholars have less reason to shy away from disability-related topics for their dissertations. Despite this apparent acceptance of disability studies as a valid field of research, however, post-secondary institutions remain sites where academic advisors and service-providing offices are ill equipped to handle the diverse disability needs posed by students ranging from first year through the PhD, and new and veteran staff and faculty. Furthermore, administrators seem more interested in managing risk and liability than ensuring that faculty and staff are adequately accommodated and (when necessary) receive proper treatment. The insufficiency, unevenness, and inconsistency of support for people with disabilities within the educational institution can represent the most daunting challenge on campus, a challenge that I have experienced firsthand.
Though universities and colleges have taken increasing responsibility for the accommodation of disabilities among the student body over the last decade, incoming students – arguably the most vulnerable segment of that population – receive the lion’s share of attention and support. It is true that “students with disabilities are frequently not prepared to thrive in a postsecondary setting.” (Lawson, Gould & Conley 2016: 299) However, as we work our way up the education ladder, support becomes ever scarcer and harder to access, under the perception that “students don’t need accommodations anymore when they’re in graduate school.” (Mullins & Preyde 2013: 155) A recent study identifies isolation and the accompanying emotions of loneliness and depression as endemic to the doctoral experience; institutions nonetheless lack structures and cultures of support for PhD students, in the belief that advanced students can create their own coping mechanisms (Janta, Lugosi & Brown 2014).
By the time you get to the faculty level, the institutional expectation is that faculty (and staff) should know where to go to get help. Thus the burden falls directly on new appointees to arrive at the appropriate accommodations for their disabilities, having to negotiate a complex web of unfamiliar offices. (Deaville, 2009) You might have to work with the departmental timetabling rep for finding suitable teaching spaces and times, the university Equity Officer to ensure fairness in the accommodation process, and the union steward to address a grievance over a failure to accommodate. Should you have an invisible disability that impacts your performance in the classroom, you might also have to deal with the Dean, Human Resources, and an off-campus counseling service. And because stigmatization does not cease its pernicious effects at the gates of academe, some colleagues have decided not to reveal their disabling conditions at all. For example, a university organist once confided to me that he could only hear out of one ear, but he did not reveal his condition within the department for fear that he might lose his position.
Indeed, musicians pose unique problems for accommodation in the academy: just carrying out our work of practice and performance may cause physical injury and disability that might not be remediable (think of Robert Schumann). If the musician is already disabled, “it becomes imperative to find a way of presenting their disability in a nonthreatening way,” or “try to pass as nondisabled,” as Joe Straus argues. (Straus 2011: 128). These are not practices a musician would normally learn at university, nor do we receive training in coping with excessive performance anxiety, one of the major impairments that hindered my development as a cellist (the other was a repaired tendon in my left hand, caused by an accidental cut sustained while I was in high school). Still, I shy away from claiming music as a discipline that necessarily requires greater accommodation for visible and invisible disabilities in post-secondary institutions, not least because “each case of disability is unique.” (Lee 2006: 98)
Towards a Solution
It is crucial that those of us in academic positions of authority and privilege (tenured, in administration) advocate for understanding and accommodation for disabled colleagues and students. Specifically, we might share our own narratives of disability with classes (as appropriate), both to remove some of the stigma surrounding disability and to model a willingness to engage in dialogue about the topic. We should also agitate for adequate disability support services and accommodation policies on our campuses, which should be working towards compliance with the provisions of the UN Disability Convention of 2006, especially regarding accessibility. (Melish 2007).
I envision the AMS Music and Disability Study Group as serving a central function for members of the society and the public-at-large in informing research, encouraging activism and furnishing a personal “port of call.” (Bassler 2017) Our website provides a wealth of information and of links to other resources for those who are interested in pursuing music and disability as an area of research and/or need to develop a case for improved services, accessibility and accommodations at their home institutions. Our panels and sessions at the annual meetings of the AMS provide a safe space for presenting and discussing disability-related issues and for networking with colleagues engaged in similar research and activism. And of course the officers of the study group – Samantha Bassler and Jessica Holmes, co-chairs; Beth Keyes, Secretary/Treasurer; Michael Accinno, social media officer; and myself, blog editor – are prepared to answer any questions that our readers might have regarding music and disability.
James Deaville edits the blog of the AMS Music and Disability Study Group (AMSDSG) and has been an active member of that group since its founding. He has published on the topic of music and invisible disability in Music Theory Online (August, 2009) and in the Oxford Handbook of Music and Disability Studies and has delivered papers on it in various fora, including the AMSDSG. He taught the first (seminar) course in Canada on Music and Disability last fall (2006), at Carleton University in Ottawa.
Bassler, Samantha. “Music and Disability at the American Musicological Society and the Intersection of Disability Activism and Music Studies.” AMS Music and Disability Study Group Blog (May, 2017). https://musicdisabilitystudies.wordpress.com/
Deaville, James. “More Than the Blues: Clinical Depression, Invisible Disabilities and Academe.” MTO 15, nos. 3-4 (2009). http://www.mtosmt.org/issues/mto.09.15.3/mto.09.15.3.deaville.html
Janta, Hania, Peter Lugosi and Lorraine Brown. “Coping with Loneliness: A Netnographic Study of Doctoral Students.” Journal of Further and Higher Education 38, no. 4 (2014): 553-571.
Lawson, Dana L., Sarah A. Gould and Melanie L. Conley. “M330-335.cDaniel Step Ahead: A Summer Transitional Program for First Year College Students with Disabilities.” Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability 29, no. 3 (Fall 2016):
Lee, Theresa Man Ling. “Multicultural Citizenship: The Case of the Disabled.” Critical Disability Theory: Essays in Philosophy, Politics, Policy, and Law. Ed. Dianne Pothier, Richard Devlin, 87-106 (Vancouver, BC: University of Vancouver Press, 2006).
Melish, Tara J. “The UN Disability Convention: Historic Process, Strong Prospects, and Why the U.S. Should Ratify.” Human Rights Brief 14, no. 2 (2007): 43-47.
Mullins, Laura and Michèle Preyde. “The Lived Experience of Students with an Invisible Disability at a Canadian University.” Disability & Society 28, no. 2 (2013): 147-160.
Straus, Joseph. Extraordinary Measures: Disability in Music. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.
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.