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Musings: Disability and Community in Music

Photo ID: hands with corresponding sleeves of various colors are overlaid on top of each other.

I'm heartbroken today. The day after its very first sale, a piece of mine was rejected from a DEI (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion) call for scores. Usually I wouldn't care about a rejection letter or be so butthurt over it since it does come down to a hair sometimes, but why does this hurt so much? It's about disability justice and has quite poignant music about such a big topic in our society. But even more profoundly, the piece's last section has a message about building inclusivity as a community of people; Community is everything.

As many of you may know, I've written two pieces about disability based on my and my disabled peers' experiences with ableism. Shut Out and N.D. cover two contrasting topics, the former being written about moods relating to ableism and the latter is a concert opener about neurodiversity. I need not waste energy introducing the pieces themselves as I have linked to their individual pages. This message needs to be heard everywhere. Especially younger musicians (I plan on writing a grade 2 or 3 band work combining these two others...let me know if you're interested). Why did I hop on this train, and why am I continuing on it?

Firstly, I want to talk about diversity. Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity programs and initiatives have done a lot of great work in our field in lifting diverse voices up. I already mentioned some programs and music before, but it's worth mentioning again that disability is often not discussed while things like race, gender expression, sexuality, and ethnicity are often considered for inclusion on these programs. Granted, there is some progress being made in places such as my own university where we have an office that serves disabled folks and helps with accommodations of all levels, even temporary ones. The Shut Out consortium had 26 members who all signed on to support the message of a more accessible world. What makes my brain go absolutely haywire, though, is the fact that we often fail to recognize that accessible infrastructure in both tangible and conceptual forms would benefit everyone. Everyone can become disabled. This is an oft-missed simple fact that has a huge impact when considered. Therefore, if society can work to be more accessible and inclusive in a way that benefits everyone...the playing field can become way more level. For example, universal access to healthcare and social programs would immensely change and improve who gets care and services and therefore improve quality of lives. We can become more of a tight-knit community when we recognize the deeper aspects of who we are as people and what makes us all unique.

Secondly, there is the topic of ableism and how we as a community could dismantle it. Ableism is something that permeates our society quite deeply, and we may not realize we're being ableist unless we're properly educated on it. Since we are all VERY connected in 2023 with the internet, we can lift each other up and advocate for more inclusivity at the touch of a finger. I've gone through a lot of ableism as a musician especially concerning my hearing when people think it should not be possible for me to be a professional musician and composer with lifelong deafness, but I have found that my peers and family have and are actively standing up for change and better accessibility in an environment like this. They are the ones who have helped me believe in myself. I have many performer and conductor friends who will stand up for me, like I will for them. Together, we musicians can work to dismantle ableism in our field and help make it a compassionate and accessible field. For instance- I've had plenty experience of playing in community bands where people of all livelihoods come together to make music, and it's beautiful. It feels like a true cohort where nobody gives a crap if you as an individual can play every single note on the page perfectly. You and your section mates lift each other up. You all make it work to help the section and the ensemble come across with musical coherency. This is how I envision us fighting and dismantling ableism.

Music has the ability to create strong community, and that is my aim with writing pieces from my lens as a disabled person. Sure, it hurts a lot when it gets rejected by people I do not know but what gives me solace and gratitude is the community of musicians I'm a part of who will lift each other up regardless of the messages that we believe in.

Community is way more important than some competition.



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