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Extraordinary voices: Helen Keller, music and the limits of oralism

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Abstract

This article examines iconic American deafblind writer Helen Keller's entræ#169;e into musical culture, culminating in her studies with voice teacher Charles A. White. In 1909, Keller began weekly lessons with White, who deepened her understanding of breathing and vocal production. Keller routinely made the acquaintance of opera singers in the 1910s and the 1920s, including sopranos Georgette Leblanc and Minnie Saltzman-Stevens, and tenor Enrico Caruso. Guided by the cultural logic of oralism, Keller nurtured a lively interest in music throughout her life. Although a voice-centred world-view enhanced Keller's cultural standing among hearing Americans, it did little to promote the growth of a shared identity rooted in deaf or deafblind experience. The subsequent growth of Deaf culture challenges us to reconsider the limits of Keller's musical practices and to question anew her belief in the extraordinary power of the human voice.
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Keywords: Deaf studies; Helen Keller; deafblindness; disability studies; opera; oralism

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: October 1, 2019

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  • JIVS provides a forum for scholarly and practice-based engagement with voice as a phenomenon of communication and performance, and a methodology or metaphor for analysis. This peer-reviewed journal draws on an interdisciplinary series of lenses, including cultural studies, critical theory, performance studies, inter-culturalism, linguistics, visual culture, musicology, architecture and somatics.
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