Guest Post by Meghan Schrader, announcing the newly-formed Society for Disability Studies Interest Group on Disability and Music

Meghan Schrader received her M.A. in Music at the University of New Hampshire, and is the author of an article in the forthcoming collection Anxiety Muted: American Film Music in a Suburban Age, which will be published by Oxford University Press.

I am pleased to announce that the first meeting of the Society for Disability Studies music interest group was held recently at the national Conference of Disability Studies. The group was conceived around the original concept of musicology, described by Joseph Kerman in Contemplating Music, as having ranged “from the history of Western music to the taxonomy of primitive music, as it was then called, from acoustics to aesthetics, and from harmony to counterpoint to piano pedagogy.”

I find this definition is useful for our purposes: scholars in disability studies approach music in a variety of ways. We may be professional musicologists, or we may teach or study fields outside of music, such as English or Philosophy. In contrast to the breadth of methodological approaches to the study of music and disability, music is a distinct discipline with particular genres, history, and cultural practices; which differ from other forms of human expression. Hence, my hope is to provide a forum for SDS attendees to discuss music within a broad musicological framework. I also hope that doing so might foster collaboration with scholars who are affiliated with the AMS and SMT Disability Study Groups, in hopes that our divergent experiences might enrich each other’s scholarship.

By drawing on the increasing body of work related to music and disability, this group will consider the following questions: How can our work best reflect the interdisciplinary nature of disability studies? How does and should such musicology intersect with related fields, such a film studies, sound studies, and identity studies? What is music’s potential to reify or subvert cultural conceptions of disabled people, performers, and composers? What can disability studies contribute to music pedagogy? How might these contributions add to or change 19th century standards of musicianship that currently determine the practice of music? Can the social critique which often accompanies the analysis of narrative music also be applied to interpretations of absolute music? How can the analysis of music be integrated with ethical issues encountered in Disability Studies? What has disability studies to teach musicology, and what does musicology have to contribute to disability studies? How do nuances within disability identity impact our respective experiences as scholars, and particularly within the musicology/disability studies communities?

Our first meeting attracted scholars from a variety of different backgrounds and research interests, including:

  • Presidential campaign music, opera on YouTube, and Freakery
  • Music performance and, deafness in music with a focus on Evelyn Glennie and Christine Sun Kim
  • Film music, particularly horror film soundtracks and film music of the 1950s
  • Elitisim in music education
  • Film music and studies of “The Beast with Five Fingers,” “Pride of Manres,” and Al Schidt and blindness
  • Studies of Porgy and Bess and contemporary music
  • Songwriting/performance with a focus on clinical psychology and metal music

We began the process of organizing one or more interdisciplinary panels for next year, in which we hope to bring these divergent interests together. True to the familial spirit of SDS, we also discussed the possibility of an “open mic night,” in which music scholars could not only meet for discussion, but also perform for each other.

We noted that SDS has had several music panels over the years, but that scholars who frequently attend SDS might be less likely to attend AMS, SAM or SMT meetings. Similarly, frequent participants in the latter conferences rarely attend SDS. Hence, another goal is to establish more frequent interactions and communication between scholars affiliated with these respective organizations. We would like to encourage these scholars to enrich both conferences with their presence and contributions.

Those wishing to participate in a panel should submit their abstracts to Meghan Schrader (meghanschrader at, Jessica Holmes (jessica.holmes at, and Dana Gorzelany-Mostak (dana.gorzelany-mostak at by December 3, 2014. The Society for Disability Studies Music Interest Group also has a Facebook presence.

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.