Much Taboo About
York St John
Welcome and Executive Summary
Welcome to Much Taboo About Nothing, my Independent Research Project for my Masters in Community Music.
Much Taboo About Nothing was a response to my research questions, and a culmination of my work presented through a show in June at York St John University. The show itself focused on four main elements; music, disability, humour and identity. The idea behind this project stems from my personal experience of living with cerebral palsy and growing up to become the community musician I am today. Much Taboo About Nothing is an arts-based research project comprised of this online portfolio, following the show in June. It documents the research procedures and outcomes undertaken and developed throughout.
Much Taboo About Nothing brought musicians with disabilities together to find out what the challenges and barriers are that they face when engaging with the music industry, and what support can be put in place to alleviate some of these challenges. Through arts-based research, the challenges, barriers and support needed are documented through this online portfolio.
The theoretical frameworks that helped shape this research were the notions of identity; including personal and social identity, the meaning and development of taboo; specifically disability taboo, and the many models of disability that have contributed and helped define disability within society today.
This arts-based research project included a one night evening show - Much Taboo About Nothing - and a set of songwriting sessions with a group of young people (Music Spark - Ausome) with autism. The aim of these sessions was to write a song based around disability taboo, and for it to be performed at the show. The show featured the band Ausome, and Kris Halpin, a disabled musician and practitioner, as well as myself.
After the show itself was complete, the artists fed back to me the challenges that they have faced and the barriers that have prevented them achieving their full potential in the music industry.
The key findings of the whole process are listed below:
Access - The initial barrier for those with physical impairments is that of gaining access to venues, for example, for rehearsals and performances.
2. Mental Health - Not much specialist support is around for musicians with disabilities struggling with mental health and more support needs to be about to prevent a compromise to artists health and well-being.
3. Autism - For artists with autism, and to make the performance run smoothly it is important that the structure of the day is known beforehand and there are minimal changes to the day. This reduces anxiety levels, which many people with autism can have.
4. Cerebral Palsy - For people with Cerebral Palsy, fatigue from travel, set-up, performance and pack-down can impact their level of performance. As mentioned above, access can cause some challenges for those with physical challenges associated with their cerebral palsy, as well as speech difficulties.
5. Performance - Disability was a key theme throughout Much Taboo About Nothing and for the promotion of the event, it was hard to decide whether or not to mention disability as this may have caused an impact on the audience attendance. It is hard to promote an event without some mention of disability as it plays a part in the performers identity. Mentioning disability can make people shy away from performances due to various reasons, such as the taboo around it and whether they’d get the standard of musicianship they are use to with non-disabled musicians’ gigs
6. Identity - How we are perceived by society and the music industry and sector, can impact on how well we can do what we do as artists. If the main focus is on disability, then our full ability, primarily as musicians, is overlooked and we do not get the same opportunities abled-bodied musicians do.
Music and disability interaction - For those with disabilities, music can be seen to help in numerous ways leading to overall better wellbeing. This engagement and interaction in music has shown that people can gain an interest in music as a hobby and sometimes develop it into a career. Therefore early interaction to music through either school or extra-curricular activities has shown to be a great catalyst in developing skills, wellbeing and musicianship.
2. Inspiration porn and identity - The more disabled people perform and are recognised in society as an equal, the more normalised it should become. This would reduce the amount of 'inspiration porn' that is about today (a term that objectifies a person with a disability by portraying them doing something ordinary alongside a slogan such as 'the only disability in life is a bad attitude'). As disabled artists it is imperative that our musicianship is the main focus in getting us onto stages, but having our disabilities makes us the musicians we are.
3. Inclusivity and accessibility - Wheelchair users will need step-free access to venues and disabled parking nearby. Once in the venue or space, considerations are needed for those with requirements to access stages and other facilities safely.
4. Flexibility - Building a relationship with the artists will allow an understanding of needs and will enable the appropriate access needs to be in place. Communicating with people within the venues can be challenging for some disabled artists, so patience and extra time is recommended for venues and hosts. Being flexible and knowing that things may not go at the same pace as that of non-disabled musicians gigs will allow for the best scenarios and outcomes for all parties involved.
1. Pedagogy - Dialogic and critical pedagogy were paramount in my approach to working with Ausome throughout the song writing sessions. The relationship between myself and the participants also proved poignant in developing the song. Having a strong, positive relationship built on trust and understanding allowed musical learning to begin, and created a safe environment. This portrays dialogic pedagogy as everyone is given a chance to say and contribute ideas to the sessions.
The aim of these song writing sessions was to create a song about disability taboo, and to highlight that disabled people should be treated as equally as non-disabled people in society. Basing the song lyrics on our experiences and reflecting on them resonates with critical pedagogy.
2. Mindset - Carol Dweck's (2012) Mindset theory depicts two different mindsets; Fixed mindset - 'your qualities are carved in stone' (p.6), and; Growth mindset - your qualities can always be developed and grow. Within the song writing sessions, it came about that society has perceived us as not being able to achieve much and underestimating us - Fixed mindset.
Through addressing this stigma and reinforcing the belief we can do more attunes to us having a Growth mindset and building on these notions reinforces our ability.
3. Leadership - Multiple approaches were used throughout my leadership of the song writing sessions. Beginning with a directive role to get the initial ideas flowing. This was followed by a 'scaffolding' concept whereby I took more and more of a step backwards in the leading and directing of ideas and lyric building.
Ausome were able to make final decisions on lyrics as a group and as the piece developed I stepped back in to contribute to the overall final structure and performance elements of it. The whole process resonated as a dialogic process as everybody contributed and devised a piece which we were all proud of and had the meaning we all wanted to share.
Confidence - Ausome's main outcome from being part of Much Taboo About Nothing was a gain in confidence. They grew in confidence and self belief that they can do more that they thought.
2. Identity - Each artist defines themselves and their disability differently. It is important that performers are able to share their identity and not be pigeon-holed into being defined by society or given a label. Within this performance context, the perception of musician rang through as being a main defining feature for everyone.
3. Humour - Humour was used to tie each act together by using stand-up comedy about elements of my life living with my disabilities. The aim was that the audience see that you can laugh about disability and that it is not a bad thing. However, it was important that the audience laughed with me, not at me. This produced a positive vibe and a more supporting environment for all people present, particularity the acts who performed.
4. Dissensus - With no clear definition of what Community Music is, or does, can benefit its ever evolving community of practice (Lave and Wenger, 1991) and the dissensus around this is one of its defining characteristics. This dissensus allows for new voices to be heard and widen the discourse, as well as the community of practitioners.
Musicians with disabilities have the right to creative expression and Much Taboo About Nothing created a sense of solidarity as a group, and for individuals to know that our work is just as important and beneficial as those without disabilities. This allowed for a 'scene' to develop for musicians with disabilities, allowing them to be in the spotlight.
Much Taboo About Nothing conforms to arts-based research as it was an original investigation that gained new knowledge through practice, and the outcomes of said practice
Musicians with disabilities can perform and hold an identity as musicians in their own right
Disability plays a part in individuals unique identity
The more opportunities for disabled people to access the arts, the more opportunities to perform in society can arise, meaning less of a taboo and stigma around
It is important that all aspects of a persons access requirements are met, this is done when a conversation arises and relationship is built between the musician and the host/venue
Peoples' disabilities contribute to their musical lives and identity, but are not the defining aspect. Within this project it has been their identity as musicians that emanates the most
Wider sample size: This project gathered information from a small sample of musicians with disabilities. However, there is a wide range of disabilities that affect many people, so gathering information from other musicians with other disabilities would collect data on their barriers and challenges that they face in the industry. This would be best collected through questionnaires and observations at events that musicians with disabilities perform at. This information would help to promote more support that can be put in place within the industry.
More performance opportunities: Breaking down the taboo around disability can be done when disability is seen and accepted in society more. Having opportunities for musicians with disabilities to perform their music and share their skills will enable a more accepting society. So, connecting with other organisations; particularly music organisations, would help promote performances and decrease the stigma around disability.
Audience perceptions: Alongside doing more performances, gathering audiences responses would help to understand what some of the perceptions are around disability and the arts. Anonymous questionnaires at performances would gather feedback from audiences to analyse what these perceptions may be.
Have a look around and click on the links below to find out more.
Click this link to find out more about the performers in Much Taboo About Nothing!
Click this link to find out more about the theoretical frameworks that contributed to Much Taboo About Nothing!
Click this link to discover how some of the songs for the show were written by the artists themselves!
Click here to read about the research behind Much Taboo About Nothing!