Vaguely Artistic: Disabled Musicians as Experts in an Inclusive Community Music Project in Higher Education, From a Social Confluence Perspective”

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This poster presents a project developed as part of a music module on a Creative and Therapeutic Arts degree in a higher education context. While the module had historically been taught on campus through a range of simulations and theoretical projects, this initiative sought to recognise the expertise of disabled musicians in preparing community musicians for professional practice (Lerner and Straus, 2006; Lubet, 2011; Lubet, 2014a), and enabled their insight and expertise to be communicated through an experiential learning project design (Elflein, 2009; Mortimer, 2017). The project was developed through professional networks and ‘locally curated’ learning (Penketh and Waite, 2017), enabling a thorough and honest exploration of the multifaceted potential of the project. The existing members of inclusive punk rock band, Vaguely Artistic, were consulted by the artistic director to consider whether they were interested in engaging in a pedagogical collaboration. With the band’s investment in the project, an organic framework emerged for a music student to become immersed in the work of the band and to become an honorary member for a semester. This pedagogical design draws from Lubet’s (2014a) theory of social confluence, where the disabled musicians are recognised as authorities rather than service users through their specialism and insight in this particular domain, and this transforms their social role. The university brief was broad, enabling the disabled musicians to remain as experts in the context of the project, and encouraged the student to develop her understanding of inclusive music practice through her lived experience of being a member of Vaguely Artistic. She was encouraged to explore a composition based activity and an arrangement based activity with the group, in a collaborative and participatory context, as well as writing a critical reflection on this experience. The student’s engagement in the rehearsal and creative process as well as her final performance was assessed. To accompany and contextualise the practical project experience, a series of theoretical seminars were taught where rich discussion was facilitated around contemporary theories of disability and popular music and the student was encouraged to critically consider how her lived experience related to these existing theoretical frameworks (Lerner and Straus, 2006; Waltz and James, 2009; Straus, 2011; Lubet, 2011; McKay, 2013; Howe et al., 2016). The outcomes of the project were multi-faceted. There was significant learning from a pedagogical perspective about developing innovative assessment designs which enable authentic learning in context, but also the challenges of aligning this with university policies and expectations (Jung, 2011; Piacitelli et al., 2013). The student remained as a permanent member of Vaguely Artistic and has since been performing locally and internationally with the group at a range of mainstream, inclusive arts and disability arts events. The student’s critical reflection shared a wealth of valuable insights regarding her lived experience of working with Vaguely Artistic; namely of multiple dualities and dichotomies in her experiences. Dower (2016) insightfully discusses the duality of being disabled/non-disabled, outsider/insider, academic/social group member, and the negotiation of process/product and articulates with passion and insight the impact of learning from experts in their field.

Elflein, D. (2009), ‘A Popular Music Project and People with Disabilities Community in Hamburg, Germany: The Case of Station 17’, Popular Music, 28(3), p. 397 – 410
Dower, T. (2016), ‘Critical Reflection Upon the Experience of Collaborating with Vaguely Artistic’, Unpublished Essay, University of South Wales
Howe, B., Jensen-Moulton, S., Lerner, N. and Straus, J. (Eds) (2016), The Oxford Handbook of Music and Disability Studies, New York: Oxford University Press
Jung, J. (2011), ‘Assessing learning from a student community engagement project’, Education + Training, 53(2/3), p.155 – 165
Lerner, N. and Straus, J. N. (Eds) (2006), Sounding Off: Theorizing Disability in Music, New York: Routledge
Lubet, A. (2011), Music, Disability, and Society, Philadelphia: Temple University Press

Lubet, A. (2014a), ‘Social Confluence and Citizenship: A View from the Intersection of Music and Disability.” In Civil Disabilities: Citizenship, Membership, and Belonging, edited by Nancy Hirschmann and Beth Linker, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, p. 123 – 142

McKay, G. (2013), Shakin’ All Over: Popular Music and Disability, Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press

Penketh, C. and Waite, L. (2017), ‘Lessons in Critical Avoidance: Disability Studies and ‘Special Educational Needs’, In Bolt, D. and Penketh, C. (Eds), Disability, Avoidance and the Academy: Challenging Resistance, Oxon, New York: Routledge, p.

Piacitelli, J., Barwick, M., Doerr, E., Porter, M., and Sumka, S. (2013), ‘Alternative break programs: From isolated enthusiasm to best practices’, Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement, 17(2), p. 87 – 109

Straus, J. N. (2011), Extraordinary Measures: Disability in Music, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press
Waltz, M. and James, M. (2009), ‘The Re(marketing) of Disability in Pop: Ian Curtis and Joy Divison’, Popular Music, 28(3), p. 367 – 380
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 5 Jul 2018
EventCripping the Muse: A summit event for music & disability studies - University of Leeds, Leeds, United Kingdom
Duration: 4 Jul 20185 Jul 2018


ConferenceCripping the Muse
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • disability
  • music
  • social confluence
  • inclusive


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