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Singing tone: Disability and pianistic voices

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Humans experience multiple forms of vocality not only through encounters with each other but also with other animals (e.g. the crying wolf), and in moving through natural environments (e.g. the howling wind). Music likewise affords varied opportunities to experience and express ourselves as vocalizing beings, giving rise to complex relationships between speaking, singing and playing musical instruments. This piece considers the built-in percussiveness of the piano against the aesthetic prestige of lyricism ‐ that is, 'songfulness' ‐ as it encodes ableist choreographies on the part of the pianist. Disabled performers whose embodied relationships to their instrument transgress the corporeal biases of piano performance and pedagogy thus defy the aesthetic limits of normative lyricism: by foregrounding interstitial gesture, and multi-sensory expression, they envoice a new aesthetic that I call 'disabled songfulness'. Their pianistic voices, I argue, reach beyond stage and studio, refusing containment within the sensory hierarchies out of which music is often made.
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Keywords: aesthetics; disability; embodiment; lyricism; normalization; percussiveness; piano technique; resistance

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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