Throughout Much Taboo About Nothing, I have been able to identify some of the barriers that disabled musicians face gaining access to the music industry and sector, and how they can be supported more. This project has also giving me insights into productive leadership facilitation of song writing workshops with young people with additional needs, and how best to approach the leading of sessions. There have also been other positive outcomes from this research project which I will discuss below including; gaining confidence, using humour to break down barriers, and a sense of solidarity and identity in creating a new ‘space’ for us, as disabled artists.
One of the main outcomes that Ausome gained from participating in Much Taboo About Nothing was a gain in confidence in a variety of settings. This included writing songs and performing on stage. Matarasso states that; ‘participation in the arts is an effective route for personal growth, leading to enhanced confidence, skill-building and educational developments which can improve people’s social contacts and employability’ (1997, p.6). In conversation with Ausome after the performance this proved evident as the outcomes they gained from participating in the project. For example, when I posed the question; ‘what have you got out of being part of Much Taboo About Nothing?’, they responded with:
‘Full of confidence, having confidence to perform in front of others who don’t know disabilities’ and a sense of ‘independence’. I believe this is in context to being able to travel outside the North East; their usual area, and perform to an unknown audience. This gain in independence and confidence has sparked a sense of positivity in that they can do more than they thought, which ties into the next outcome: a sense of identity ownership.
For a view on Ausome's experience at Much Taboo About Nothing, see below video:
Throughout this research, identity has appeared in different contexts, including as a theoretical framework, through to the concept that each musician with a disability who partook in Much Taboo About Nothing, claims their own definition and identity of themselves as artists, and a band, and they also have disabilities which plays a part in their identity.
In conversation with Ausome after the show, when asked: As Ausome, how would you describe your identity as a band? they responded with the following:
'Bringing the message to everyone with autism, to just don’t be ashamed of who they are, show what you are made of’
‘Being able to be open, and open new doors and give people the opportunity to live their dream’
When I asked the question what does Ausome mean to you? one member responded with an anagram of Ausome, which goes as follows:
This sums up the many themes that Ausome portrays when performing and rehearsing, simply by being able to identify as a band of musicians, and not a group of young people with autism who like to play music for fun. They have the motivation to develop their skills and musicianship.
Macdonald and Miell (2002) found similar experiences with a group of disabled people who were participating in a music project. They found that ‘each of the individuals interviewed were aware of the impact of other people expectations and prior assumptions about them, feeling that they were being judged on the basis of their appearance or assumed (lack of) competence rather than on their actual abilities’ (p.169). This was evident when Ausome then went on to say how ‘quick we can write a song in two minutes flat’, and being able to play a variety of instruments; bass, guitar, keys and vocals, giving the emphasis of their identity to their musicianship more so than their disabilities.
Kris’s take on his identity is that;
‘In the early stages of my career I was super aware of my impairment being visible, and this had a big effect on how I interacted with the audience. In an attempt to cope with my anxiety about my appearance, my earliest performances were very combative, and I was known for being angsty and aggressive as a performer. I feel very differently about that now; I have found a space where I can enjoy the individualism that comes with my impairment. I no longer feel combative or threatened by audiences’.
In relation to Gibson’s identity model; Kris experienced stage two – Realization, in the early stages of his career but has now accepted his identity and experienced stage three – acceptance, giving him a positive outlook on his identity as a disabled artist.
Throughout Much Taboo About Nothing show I intended to tie each act together with the use of humour in the hope of showing that disability is not a bad thing and you really can laugh about disability. As Baum (1998) states; ‘a healthy attribute of any human, disabled or not, is the ability to laugh at themselves and their unique circumstances. So throughout the show there were elements of stand-up comedy around the experiences I have encountered with regards to my life and my disabilities. It was important that the message was that the audience laugh with me and about disability, and not at me. This constructive humour creates positive environments where people support each other, promote self-esteem and create mutually beneficial connections (Baum, 1998).
My work and practice has derived from a community music perspective and education. This has given me an insight into the many ways that music can help benefit people of all ages, abilities and in a wide range of contexts. Although there is no clear definition of what community music is or does, this lack of definition can be a benefit to its ever evolving community of practice (Lave and Wenger, 1991). Dave Camlin (2016) suggests ‘that we might view the diversity of CM practice - and the dissensus surrounding such practice - as one of CM’s defining characteristics’.
This notion of dissensus can relate to the field of music and disability that my work predominantly stems from because; ‘as a concept it helps us to make space for new voices which widen not just our discourse but also our community of practitioners and practice’ (Camlin, 2016). Despite the many barriers that musicians with disabilities face throughout the music industry and sector, one main concept prevails; the notion of our abilities and musical skills. As Hadley (2014) states; ‘in a performance situation, in particular a social performance situation, a disabled person is an unconscious-become-conscious performer with the capacity to intervene in – confirm, challenge or change – social ideas about bodies, bodily differences, identities and the dominant order of things’ (p.182). Therefore, musicians with disabilities have the right to creative expression and can show their talents, similar to the Paralympic movement where disabled athletes have shown that they can become professional athletes in their own right. Within the music (and disability) field; ‘it’s important that new members of our community of practice feel that there is room for them and their musicality, however it happens to manifest’ (Camlin, 2016).
The performance and overall project has allowed a sense of solidarity as a group but also individuals to know that our work is just as important and beneficial as those without disabilities, and we can continue to develop the scene for more talented musicians with disabilities to be in the spotlight.