Conference Agenda

The Online Program of events for the 2023 AMS & SMT Joint Annual Meeting appears below. This program is subject to change. The final program will be published in early November.

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Session Overview
Disability Identity in Music Scholarship
Friday, 10/Nov/2023:
8:00pm - 10:00pm

Location: Governor's Sq. 17

Session Topics:
Popular Music, Composition / Creative Process, Ethnomusicology, 1900–Present, African American / Black Studies, Disability, Gender / Sexuality / LGBTQ Studies, Race / Ethnicity / Social Justice, AMS

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Disability Identity in Music Scholarship

Chair(s): Elizabeth McLain (Virginia Tech), Andrew Dell'Antonio (UT Austin)

Organized by the AMS Music and Disability Study Group

In the most recent sessions coordinated by the Music and Disability Study Group of the AMS, we established that many scholars with disabilities are excluded from musicology as a discipline. Many disabled musicians are also missing from our research and teaching. However, these “outsiders” have the “inside” perspective on disabled music. What could we gain if we chose to not only include them, but amplify their voices?

Our session for AMS-SMT Denver will begin the process of finding out.

The topic our presenters and panelists will explore is “What does it mean to be disabled in music scholarship?” – or, if one prefers, “How does identity contribute to how we approach our positionality in musicology?”

Through our call for papers, we sought presenters who had often not felt heard within musicology because of factors that distance them from academia – whether because they convey an unconventional identity, lack epistemic authority, have been left out of the conversation, or any intersection of these and other positionalities.

For greater accessibility, complete presentations will be prerecorded and available through, the website for the Music and Disability Study Group of the AMS. The session at AMS 2023 will consist of short summaries by the presenters followed by a roundtable discussion of their work with attendees.

Some essential topics our presenters will address are:

  • How does experience with disability change perceptions of music?

  • What do disabled people know about music that a nondisabled person might not know?

  • Are there ways that musicking is used to build disability communities? Can it contribute to care work?

  • What happens when we apply critical disability studies to the study of music?

Our presenters address questions of ethnography through disabled bodies, madness and black femme religious expression, social constructions and collective questioning of musical weakness, modeling adaptive musicking for young musicians, neurodivergent musicking sensibilities as a resource for access and power, the epistemic barriers to disabled musicians within academia, and ultimately the way musicking can provide pathways to liberation, justice, and inclusion for all people—including people with disabilities.

Our innovative session expands the boundaries of music studies of disability with single and multi-author presentations in a variety of formats. Our experts’ backgrounds include performance, composition, musicology, ethnomusicology, disability studies, community organizing, pedagogy, queer studies, activism, and more. Together, we are calling for radically accessible transdisciplinary approaches to 21st-century music and disability scholarship.


Presentations of the Symposium


Ethnography Through All Of Our Bodies: Reconsidering Methodology through Disability Expertise

Emily Williams Roberts
University of Chicago

Ethnography is inherently a research methodology practiced in and through the body. However, the writing about practicing ethnography has historically left out disability in its considerations. When discussed, it is often used as a framing device or a disclosure, rather than part of the methodology. I question, then, what happens when we conduct ethnography through all of our bodies. Drawing off ideas such as Deaf-Gain (Bauman and Murray, 2013), Dorsality (Sirvage, 2015), and Disability Expertise (Hartblay, 2020), this presentation will explore how we think about and practice researching and writing through the diversity of our bodies and the ways they prompt us to move and interact with the world around us. It will question if ethnography can be extracted from bodily experience and, more specifically, if it can be considered apart from recognitions of able-bodiedness or disability. In other words, I consider disability as a part of methodology, rather than an obstacle or a footnote. By presenting a series of case studies surrounding my own research as a hard-of-hearing scholar, I demonstrate how disability lies at the core of my ethnographic practice.


I got a right to be Mad: Madness in Beyoncé’s Lemonade

Samar Johnson
University of Kentucky

In La Marr Jurelle Bruce’s book “How to Go Mad without Losing Your Mind,” he introduces the idea of black radical creativity as a form of psychosocial madness. He states that black radical creativity “signifies black expressive culture that imagines, manifests and practices otherwise ways of doing and being-all while confounding dominant logics, subverting normative aesthetics and eroding oppressive structures of power and feeling” (Pg. 6, Kindle Version). Psychosocial madness occurs when one leaves the norms of a culture to participate in anything counter to the ideals of a culture, perceived or any otherwise noted. This has manifested itself within Western culture as anything ranging from same sex attraction to overt femininity, to counter cultural rebellion.

More specifically speaking, this lends itself to an explanation of the “angry” or “mad” Black woman trope which Black femmes endure anytime they refuse to engage in the demure and self-sacrificing social roles of “Mammy” or “Auntie.” In 2015 Beyoncé released her album, Lemonade, which not only had lyrics and musical signifiers of anger and pro-Blackness, but also a departure from mainstream Christian ideals. As a result, Beyoncé is now referred to not only as mad, but demonic. The moniker is also rooted in her signals to Hoodoo, Haitian/Creole Voodu and Lukumi spiritual practices which were regarded as demonic after the success of the Haitian Revolution in 1804.

In this presentation the various ways in which Beyoncé’s musical and stylistic choices signal madness will be discussed by way of identifying her choices to leave the status quo and elevate Blackness, divine femininity, righteous anger, and African Spiritual Traditions.



Molly Joyce
University of Virginia

I will present Perspective, an ongoing project featuring disabled interviewees responding to what access, care, and more mean to them. Their voices are highlighted aurally with musical underscoring and visually through open-caption videos. The project responds to negotiations of identity and social status by highlighting the voices and viewpoints of disabled individuals.

Perspective stemmed from dialogue with disability activist Judith Heumann, who asked why I refer to my left hand as “weak.” My left hand was nearly amputated in a car accident twenty years ago, and it took almost twenty years to identify as disabled and embrace it. However, despite my evolution, I referred to my disability as a “weakness” and categorized it within narrowly-defined social constructions of what weakness can and should be. Therefore with Heumann’s question, I wondered if rethinking this terminology beyond such limited descriptions could allow broader understanding and interpretation of these terms while gaining a greater appreciation of and solidarity with disabled perspectives.

That set the impetus for Perspective, which features contributions from disabled participants worldwide and asks what broad yet disability-specific terms mean to them:

- What is access for you?

- What is care for you?

- What is control for you?

- What is weakness for you?

- What is strength for you?

- What is cure for you?

- What is interdependence for you?

- What is assumption for you?

Through this presentation, I hope to emphasize the call’s themes of an embodied disability changing one’s relationship to music, using music to build disability community, and applying critical disability studies to music. The project’s concepts and questions, such as care, interdependence, and more, underscore critical values from disability culture and put them in a musical context. Additionally, the project and its several iterations have been used to build disability community through talkback events or interactive workshops, such as with the The Woodlands in Pittsburgh, and forthcoming with Community Access to the Arts (CATA) in Massachusetts and a public art iteration in Düsseldorf, Germany.


Inclusive Music Workshops

Diane Kolin
York University

My considerations are based on different aspects of music education in diverse stages of life, from childhood to adulthood, in music schools hosting students who could potentially become the next generation of scholars, teachers, and musicians.

In the last few years, I have interviewed many musicians with disabilities who have shared with me the lack of role models where and when they were studying music as a child. With these conversations in mind, I questioned my own role as a performer, a musicologist, and a music teacher. I combined my experiences to consider the level of reach in groups of individuals of different ages and interests.

The ages of the students in the music school in which I work, Community Music Schools of Toronto, range from 4 to 18. The courses they receive vary from the discovery of instruments to individual lessons, with the use of traditional instruments. However, the direction of this school constantly explores other ways to perform, to extend the knowledge and the curiosity of the children. Between September 2022 and June 2023, I proposed to lead a series of adaptive instruments and ASL music workshops, which the school accepted. The sessions allowed students to try different kinds of instruments, performing techniques, and scores. At the end of each class, we talked about music and disability, musicians who play differently, and the fact that it is possible to play an instrument with a disability. The series of workshops concluded with the final recital in June 2023, during which each group presented the piece or song they worked on.

Interestingly, their teachers have been participating as much as the students. They have invited me to come back for more conversations and for future collaborations with artists with disabilities.

Though successful, these workshops are given to a limited number of participants. In order to have a real impact, they would need to be offered in more schools and repeated. This presentation proposes a review and an analysis of these workshops, their results, and their potential impacts on music education.


An Initial Exploration of Autistic, Synesthetic Queer Listening

Steph Ban
Independent Scholar

In this presentation, I continue and expand my musicological work around areas like neurodivergent musicking sensibilities, music and power, and music as an access tool. Being autistic with auditory hypersensitivity means that I react more strongly, perhaps even more viscerally, than many nondisabled people. Certain pitches, timbres, and volumes of sound cause me intense distress, even pain. There are also musical qualities that I love and derive happiness from in an intense way that many nondisabled people appear not to.

I am also synesthetic, which for me means that many sounds have accompanying, involuntary bodily sensations. For example, higher pitches on violins feel like being stabbed through the top of my head. Bob Dylan’s voice feels like sandpaper scratching my mind. Being autistic and synesthetic means I react outwardly to music I perceive as intense. This sometimes makes it difficult to listen to unfamiliar music, especially in a group. I cannot fit with the model of the “disciplined”. inwardly moved but outwardly stoic concertgoer that musicologist Fred Maus describes.

Instead, my musicking framework resonates deeply with the work of lesbian feminist musicologist Suzanne Cusick, who uses lesbian sexuality as a framing device for the listener/music and music performer/music dynamics, paying particular attention to questions of power and sensation.

Building on Cusick’s framework described above and Maus’s work around subjectivity and queer listening, I explore what my personal framework of autistic, synesthetic, queer listening might be. How might I be able to leverage my neurodivergences for more, and not less, access to music? How might a pedagogical framework recognize and respect intense listening experience without pathology? How might work on queer sensuality and sexuality inform how we can approach intense listening experiences?


You Want Us to do What? : Analysing the Disability Identity in Music Scholarship Call for Papers

Heather Strohschein1, Mags Smith2, Linda Yates2
1Bowling Green State University, 2Independent Researcher

We are three colleagues from the United States and Scotland. One of us is a community musician who facilitates inclusive musical workshops and experiences. One is an amateur musician, participant-advisor for one of her music groups, and has additional support needs. And the third is an ethnomusicologist who studies community music making. We have been working, presenting, and publishing together for two and a half years. Our work and experience includes the intersections of music, academic language/culture, and inclusivity and accessibility. We embody multiple layers of insider and outsider: to lived disabilities, to music scholarship, and to the academic world of conferences. For our presentation, we want to analyze the Disability Identity in Music Scholarship call for papers. The goals expressed in the call by the Music & Disability Study Group inspired us. But it also left us with questions about our own place within academia. We want to share our thoughts, questions, and inspirations to help build more bridges.


Crip-Punk! Exploring Disability and Liberation Through Music

Chris Wylie

Have you ever wanted to burn everything to the ground?

This is a quote from my song, “Bringing Fire” which is a song about liberation, inclusion, and Love from the margins. I also sing: “I’m hanging on the margins, I’m here and I’m proud, build me a ramp or I’ll burn you to the ground, I’m bringing fire!”

This is not a call for harm, but a cry for help and a plea for liberation written 30+ years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) while I still mostly can’t access many buildings, let alone stages. I hear and write music written from my disabled body as a wheelchair user with cerebral palsy.

I know and understand music in a different way precisely because of my body. Cries for inclusion, acceptance, Love, and justice, are my cries too. Even a song written by non-disabled artists like the song, “No Hard Feelings” by the Avett Brothers with its line, “When this body won’t hold me anymore, and it finally sets me free, will I be ready?” is different for me as a disabled person. A non-disabled person might hear it, or moreover assume that I hear it, as freedom from my body and my physical circumstances of this world. However, through my disabled, liberative understanding it has more to do with being freed from systems of exclusion than anything having to do with my body.

Musicians’ collectives like Krip Hop Nation or Recording Artists and Music Professionals with Disabilities (RAMPD) build together to bring disabled music and voices into the mainstream, and also shape community amongst listeners, musicians and non-musicians alike.

I will draw on my songs and experience as a performer, professional member and co-chair of the Partnerships Committee of RAMPD, and co-founder of the nonprofit Rolling Nation Network to consider the essential role disabled musicians play in the unfolding of contemporary musical culture in the US.

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