Cripping the Muse Conference: a personal reflection

Written by Rebecca Porter

ln this blog MA Disability Studies student Rebecca Porter offers a personal reflection on the ‘Cripping the Muse’ Conference held July 2018 at the School of Music, University of Leeds and co-sponsored by the Centre for Disability Studies. This landmark event brought together scholars working at the intersection of Music and Disability Studies to discuss issues of access, inclusion, participation, representation and so much more.

For as long as I can possibly remember, I’ve been two things: disabled and an avid music lover. One of my earliest memories as a child is my ballet lessons after school (because in hospital I wouldn’t let the physiotherapists come near me). My mum used to tell people, when I was a very shy and awkward teenager, to ask me about music and all of a sudden I would come to life. My first gig was when I was 11 – it was a Take That reunion tour. I have gone to at least 1 live music event virtually every year since (mainly seeing my favourite bands and artists, but also the occasional musical). I estimate the most I have been to in one year was around five.

Fast forward to now: I am an MA disability studies student looking at disabled people’s access and inclusion at live music events (#CripTheMusic) and I was lucky enough to be selected to have a video presentation of my research at the Cripping the Muse Conference at the University of Leeds, July 2018.

I registered for both days. The first day was a research training session. The second was the conference. I did a little bit of live tweeting too, from my research account: @CripTheMusic.

The research training session, with presentations, really got me thinking about my own research, and how best to navigate the intersection of music and disability. The theme that ran throughout the day was that by exchanging knowledge with one and other the two fields can really achieve something impactful.

I would add it was the most diverse conference I have been to so far and it was such an eye-opening experience for me. I was having very interesting discussions with people from a wide range of areas: musicologists, people who taught music to children with learning disabilities, music therapists, performers and people who represented some amazing charities that did work around improving disabled people’s access to music, including one orchestra and one soon-to-be opera company. It opened a fantastic dialogue between us all, that really challenged preconceived notions about music and disability studies alike.

To exemplify, I now know, thanks to several contributors who are music therapists, that music therapies are not just there to try and ‘fix’ disabled people; and thanks to Charles Matthews and Robbie McDermott, that disabled people can play virtually any instruments, it just takes some adjustment and plenty of practice (this coming from a person who tried and failed to learn to play the recorder, the guitar and the keyboard!). There were even some funny moments for me, for example, I asked Sonia Allori, who is working on a song writing project with stroke survivors, what a bassoon was (because I had heard of it, but had no idea what one looked like). Before I attended, I had to google to find out what an Aria and a Conservatoire was!

The Keynote speaker, Paul Whittaker OBE, was a brilliant speaker. Here is a quotation I noted from his presentation:

“In venues, talk to the people who use the service, not those who provide it! …Ticking boxes does not impress me…we are the experts, we know what we’re doing!”

And I couldn’t help but smile and feel that my research, although a little dissertation, was doing that. I certainly left feeling very empowered and decided that in the rest of my research career it was going to be my goal to reach out to people from other fields. Dialogue is powerful. I have also been considering starting to save up for an electronic drum kit and want to attend an opera by the end of the year!

Special thanks to Sarah Mawby, Gillian Loomes, and Rachel Salter for organising this event and for having me!

You can still follow the conference on Twitter: @CtMLeeds

And on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CtMLeeds/

Or visit their website to access content from the conference: https://crippingthemuse.com/