By Sarah Mawby
Usually, if you tell me that an event involves a 4am start, 5 hours on a Virgin East Coast Service train and 2 journeys on the London Underground at rush-hour I’d be more than a little inclined to stay in Leeds and avidly follow the conference hashtag on Twitter.
Not this event. I wouldn’t have missed Drake Music’s We All Make Music festival for the world.
If you haven’t heard of Drake Music I urge you to put your reading of this blog post on hold and check out their website immediately (although please do return once you’re done!) Experts in inclusive music-making in education, pioneers of assistive music technology and one of the sector-leaders in accessible instrument design, their remit is impressive and far-reaching. They’ve been in the game for over 20 years and, during this time, have gone on quite the journey as an organisation. As their mini ‘We All Make Music’ guide explains:
“For many years our team was made up largely of non-disabled practitioners. In other words, we were programming and delivering music-making opportunities FOR Disabled people. We recognised that there was a need to evolve a more collaborative approach. We needed to be programming and delivering music-making opportunities WITH, ALONGSIDE and BY Disabled people. This brings the idea of Equality to our work on inclusion. We value and celebrate this coming together; Disabled and non-disabled practitioners making music and change together, sharing different expertise, experiences, skill and talent.”
(Drake Music, We All Make Music 2018 Guide, p.1)
This was the impetus for the We All Make Music event. Marketed as a ‘Music Education Festival’ and forming part of Drake Music’s Think 2020 programme, this one-day un-conference brought together practitioners from across the music education sector. These attendees were treated to a range of creative, hands-on, accessible music workshops and, perhaps most relevant to Cripping the Muse, stimulating debate and discussion on what the future of inclusive music education should look like.
After a rousing welcome from Carien Meijer (CEO of Drake Music) and other members of the Drake team, John Kelly took to the stage to perform a protest song which was specially commissioned for the event. Again, if you’ve not heard of John before I cannot urge you too strongly to follow his work (you can find him on Twitter @rockinpaddy). As the room echoed with his evocative chorus – ‘We don’t fit in a box. Let my music speak for me’ – I think we all knew that this event was the start (or perhaps I should say the continuation?) of something exciting.
As the day progressed this feeling only grew. For me, last Friday’s event was the first time I’ve ever felt truly certain that I am part of a wider movement. For years a handful of music organisations have been leading the way in developing and sharing inclusive practice. What they did last Friday was to invite us all to stand with them; to come together in our shared interest to make the music education sector fully inclusive. Matt Griffiths, CEO of Youth Music, summarised this beautifully as he presented his concluding thoughts to the audience at the end of the day:
“The language of inclusion is back on the table. We have a massive opportunity over the next 4 years to get this work scalable. We’re not a special interest group. We’re not a cottage industry. There has been a lot of talk today about this being a ‘movement’ and I support that whole-heartedly. However, to effect real change this movement needs to be organised, with precise clarity of purpose, strategies and activities to create change. This applies to all of us. Concerted action has to start now.”
(Matt Griffiths, CEO of Youth Music)
As I sat on the train back to Leeds, these words circulated in my mind. Matt was right. This movement does need to be organised. I was left wondering how researchers fit into this. Evidence is powerful, but for it to have real, lasting impact on the landscape of inclusive music education (and disability and the arts more boradly) it needs to originate from an inclusive space. For evidence to lead to inclusion, research has to be inclusive. We have to do what Drake Music did, we have to stop carrying out research FOR disabled people and start carrying out research WITH, ALONGSIDE and BY disabled pepole.
As the train creaked homeward, I smiled as I realised that this was exactly what my fellow conference team and I were trying to achieve with Cripping the Muse. In the same way that We All Make Music formally sought to shift the narrative of the music education sector, Cripping the Muse formally seeks to shift the narrative of research surrounding music and disability.
It therefore seems fitting that the launch date of Cripping the Muse was Saturday 10th March 2018 – the day after We All Make Music. As researchers we have a duty to establish how we might collectively support and contribute to the efforts of the inclusive music movement. How can disabled and non-disabled music researchers alike support the efforts of the sector in making music more inclusive? In addition, how can we make research more accessible so that research findings better reflect the needs, wants and desires of disabled people? Better still, how can we make academia more accessible so that disabled people can shape the research agenda and develop inclusive research practices on their own terms?
Cripping the Muse will act as a starting place for these conversations. By bringing together amateur and professional disabled musicians, the organisations which support them, and those with research interests in disability studies, sociology, psychology, musicology, music education, music psychology, community music and music therapy we will collectively push the research agenda of the field in new directions. Together we will set a new mandate for music and disability research, proving that we too are neither a special interest group nor a cottage industry. We are what should be the norm.
Written by Sarah Mawby (lead organiser of Cripping the Muse)