Attitudes to the relationship between music and deafness suffer from two related misconceptions: the enduring assumption that hearing is central to musical experience in conjunction with an extreme impression of deafness as total aural loss; and, more recently, the tendency to reduce deaf listening to tactility, as narratives about inborn sensory acuities among the deaf proliferate in the popular imaginary. Increasingly, deafness symbolizes a set of sensory polarities that obscure an intrinsic diversity of musical experiences from which musicology stands to gain, a diversity that encompasses members of Deaf culture and non-culturally deaf people alike, and that is signaled through the person-centered compound “d/Deaf.” My article builds on recent music scholarship on disability to offer a pluralistic understanding of music and deafness. Beginning with Scottish deaf percussionist Evelyn Glennie, I investigate a range of d/Deaf accounts of music, including those of Deaf sign language users, hearing aid wearers, and cochlear implant recipients, and of people with music-induced hearing loss. Deafness resists automatic entry points into music, unsettling any straightforward hierarchy of the senses. Deaf people reflect on the musical status of aurality in markedly different ways, just as they offer a complex understanding of vision and touch. For instance, vision is a highly versatile listening strategy and is often more reliable than vibration; touch is feasible because of its contextual dependence on visual cues, and is further tied to a set of material and environmental variables. Ultimately, I argue that d/Deaf listeners enrich customary notions of musical expertise: deafness belongs in musicology as a diverse set of experiences within the full spectrum of listening.
Expert Listening beyond the Limits of Hearing: Music and Deafness
JESSICA A. HOLMES is completing her PhD in musicology at McGill University. Her research, which has been funded by the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship Program, lies at the intersections of music, disability, and embodiment. She has published in this Journal, Ethnomusicology Review, and Sound Studies, and has presented her work at the annual meetings of the American Musicological Society, the Society for American Music, and the Society for Disability Studies.
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Jessica A. Holmes; Expert Listening beyond the Limits of Hearing: Music and Deafness. Journal of the American Musicological Society 1 April 2017; 70 (1): 171–220. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/jams.2017.70.1.171
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