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  • Writer's pictureoliviadigiammarino

From Music to Disability #1: She Described Teaching Me as Dragging a Carcass Up a Hill

It all changed for me when a voice instructor at the University of Toronto said that teaching me was like dragging a carcass up a hill. I was in my fourth year of a Bachelor of Music, majoring in voice. My voice was basically destroyed by the constant abuse of a performance degree, I was chronically ill with ear infections, "kissing tonsils" and sinus infections. At the time, 2011-2014, the Jazz Department at UofT had transferred to a building that was in disrepair and completely inaccessible. We were warned not to drink water from the taps and when ceiling tiles hit the floor no one thought to mention the risk of exposed asbestos to our lungs, vocal folds or overall health.

Emotionally I was divorced from my voice and my body. I needed to perform and I was constantly being let down by illness. Except when my voice instructor (a tenured instructor at the Faculty of Music) described me this way, I was enraged. She took what little life my damaged voice had and killed it. Her words, in describing my body were both unnecessary and violent. Ascribing no value to my unproductive voice and a martyrdom to her teaching.

Looking back now, a question surfaces; in the intimate relationship between a music instructor and student, how do ableist attitudes about the body, which is possibly the instrument itself, impact the language and discourse of learning music?

At a prestigious institution such as the University of Toronto's Faculty of Music, perhaps there is an expectation of severity in performance arts akin to the movie 'Whiplash', that featured the delicate and abusive relationship between an instructor and his protégé. However, I'd argue that there is a greater responsibility for an institution with such recognition and esteem.

In this series, "From Music to Disability", I will slowly untangle and process my experiences at the University of Toronto in the Faculty of Music and perhaps shed some light on the nuances and challenges of an industry married to elitism, exclusivity and the impact that has on the bodies and people it engages.

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