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How musicians can be disabled and how musicality itself can be disabling

Music, Disability, and Society

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Alex Lubet

"With a clear and personal voice, Alex Lubet illuminates the confluence of music and disability. His insights range from classical to popular music, from the specific demands made on one-handed classical pianists to the startling uniqueness of Bob Dylanís voice, from the magical, impaired jazz guitar of Django Reinhardt to the harmonies of blind musical culture. Here is a book designed for musicians and students of disability alikeóa perfect fusion of musical knowledge and disability studies unlikely to be duplicated any time soon."
—Tobin Siebers, University of Michigan

Musical talent in Western culture is regarded as an extraordinary combination of technical proficiency and interpretative sensitivity. In Music, Disability, and Society, Alex Lubet challenges the rigid view of technical skill and writes about music in relation to disability studies. He addresses the ways in which people with disabilities are denied the opportunity to participate in music.

Elaborating on the theory of "social confluence," Lubet provides a variety of encounters between disability and music to observe radical transformations of identity. Considering hand-injured and one-handed pianists; the impairments of jazz luminaries Django Reinhardt, Horace Parlan, and "Little" Jimmy Scott; and the "Blind Orchestra" of Cairo, he shows how the cultural world of classical music contrasts sharply with that of jazz and how musicality itself is regarded a disability in some religious contexts. Music, Disability, and Society also explains how language difference can become a disability for Asian students in American schools of music, limiting their education and careers.

Lubet offers pungent criticism of the biases in music education and the music profession, going so far as to say that culture disables some performers by adhering to rigid notions of what a musician must look like, how music must be played, who may play it, and what (if any) is the legitimate place of music in society. In Music, Disability, and Society, he convincingly argues that where music is concerned, disability is a matter of culture, not physical impairment.

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Excerpt

Read the Introduction (pdf).

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Reviews

"Music, Disability, and Society is a provocative, interesting, and significant book. Lubetís work is unique in its scope and trajectory. Moreover, the overtly personal nature of the text ensures a unique take on its subject matter. This is a book that brings new and fresh perspectives to scholarly considerations of music, culture, and disability studies, as well as to the myriad points at which they intersect in contemporary (and occasionally historical) societies. It will make a significant impact on disability studies, ethnomusicology, and related fields."
Michael B. Bakan, Florida State University

"In Music, Disability, and Society Alex Lubet identifies the utility of bringing a disability studies perspective to the field of music studies. His book helps to demonstrate not only the significance of disabled peoples' presence in the history of music, but, even more importantly, the difference that disability makes in the production of the art form itself. The work will help to spur new work in this interdisciplinary arena for years to come."
David Mitchell, Temple University

"This is an excellent resource on the nexus of music, disability, and society, an area scholars of disability studies rarely cover. Lubet examines prevailing sociocultural attitudes to performers with disabilities, comparing traditional genres such as classical music, with its rigid standards of playing canonical repertoire, with jazz, which encourages improvisation and thus adaptation to impairments.... This fascinating overview of the reciprocal influences of a broad variety of elements--leavened by the author's personal experience as a musicologist with a disability--[is] well worth the effort. Summing Up: Highly recommended."
Choice

"[A]n important and engaging contribution to the growing field of disability studies. This book has the potential to become one of the most significant texts within the field because of the extraordinary range of concerns to which it responds and because it applies interdisciplinary methods of examining those concerns with a deft prowess that is exceptional in recent disability scholarship.... It will be thoroughly useful to scholars within the full range of the humanities, in education and the social sciences, and to readers (scholarly or otherwise) with a critical interest in the intersection of disability with religion, the arts, and the health sciences.... This book is an engaging and powerful read for anybody interested in music or in disability."
The Journal of Religion, Disability & Health

"Alex Lubetís new book offers a provocative and wide-ranging set of readings.... Lubetís musical examples are sweepingly and impressively international: from African-American jazzers to western and Egyptian orchestras, Ukrainian minstrels to Taliban music-haters. The book will...fascinate readers in music and disability studies alike."
New Formations

"Alex Lubet has been a pioneer in the field of music and disability, and his recent monograph Music, Disability, and Society is a major contribution. The strength of Lubetís book lies in the sense of personal history within the field of Disability Studies that its author offers, rather than in the explication of extensive fieldwork or in-depth analysis of any one musical topic. With his primarily first-person account of life and work within (and without) this field of study, Lubet opens up a new stream of humanitarian thought and methodology.... Lubetís monograph is an essential addition to the growing body of scholarship on music and disability, illuminating many areas for future research, including race and disability in jazz performance, women and one-handed pianism, and the disabled/impaired binary. Through the lens of his personal experiences, Lubet questions long-held ideas about the nature of disability, its social construction, and the field of Disability Studies itself."
Disability & Society

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Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction
1. Piano Men, or the Right Hand Doesnít . . . No
2. Letís Face the Music and Dance: Jazz and Physical Disability
3. Play Like an Egyptian: Music and Blind Culture
4. Losing . . . My Religion: Music, Disability, Gender, and Jewish and Islamic Law
5. Bringing It All Back Home, or Teach Your Children . . . Well?
References
Index

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About the Author(s)

Alex Lubet is Morse Alumni/Graduate and Professional Distinguished Teaching Professor of Music, at the University of Minnesota, with additional appointments in Jewish Studies and American Studies. He is co-editor (with Matthew Bribitzer-Stull and Gottfried Wagner) of Richard Wagner for the New Millennium: Essays in Music and Culture.

Subject Categories

Disability Studies
Music and Dance
Sociology

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