Musical Bridges to Inclusive Community: Promoting Neurodiversity Acceptance through Traditional Irish Music in Limerick, Ireland
Carrico, Alexandria H. (Alexandria Heaton) (author)
Bakan, Michael B. (Professor Directing Dissertation)
Cripe, Juliann J. Woods (University Representative)
Eyerly, Sarah (Committee Member)
Darrow, Alice-Ann (Committee Member)
Florida State University (degree granting institution)
College of Music (degree granting college)
This dissertation explores how the participatory and community-based practice of traditional Irish music, or trad, can provide a space for neurodivergent and neurotypical musicians to build relationships that challenge socially constructed notions of difference. Trad is a diverse set of genres that in many ways serves as a representation of Irish culture and heritage. Though multifaceted in its musical expression, at its heart this practice is a communal and participatory tradition. Nowhere is this emphasis on communal musicking more present than in Irish music sessions, informal gatherings that take place mainly in pubs where musicians join together for an evening of music, dance, song, and good craic (fun). While some venues are more exclusive than others, sessions are community events, which welcome all people, regardless of age, musical background, or skill to participate, at least in theory. However, through my experience as a professional singer of traditional Irish music and bodhrán (Irish frame drum) player, I discovered that this culture of inclusivity did not extend to neurodivergent musicians. Though the community-based ethos of trad was conducive to neurodiverse musical engagement, few sessions included neurodivergent musicians, either in the United States or Ireland. In fact, there were no programs dedicated to teaching trad music to neurodivergent individuals, nor were there any outward efforts to involve them in session culture. This lacuna inspired this dissertation project, which provided an opportunity for neurodivergent adults to engage with neurotypical musicians from the community through traditional Irish music. Utilizing the neurodiversity paradigm, which views neurodivergence as a natural form of human diversity manifested through neurological heterogeneity, this project was established with the goal of breaking down stigma associated with disability and promoting neurodiversity acceptance through musical means. This research was conducted over the course of nine months in Limerick, Ireland. There I collaborated with the Brothers of Charity, Ireland’s largest disability service organization, and began my musical partnership with the Roselawn Rovers Return, a group of 14 young adults with a diverse range of neurodivergent identities, including Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC), Unspecified Neurodevelopmental Disorder (UNDD), and Down Syndrome, the latter of which is often identified within the intersecting category of intellectual disability. The project was divided into two phases: the workshops and the sessions. During the first phase of the project, the Rovers and I held weekly musical workshops in which we learned traditional Irish songs, exercised agency through collaborative musical decision-making, and created opportunities for personal expression through the establishment of individual performances. In the second phase of the project, the Rovers and I joined together with Cruinniú, a group of neurotypical musicians from the Limerick community, to host two collaborative sessions. This dissertation explores this process, chronicling the personal growth demonstrated by the Rovers throughout the workshops and the extent to which the collaborative sessions allowed the Rovers and Cruinníu to bridge neurodiverse-neurotypical gaps and to overturn misconceptions that existed about people with disabilities in Limerick. Central to this dissertation are the thoughts, experiences, and narratives of my collaborators, which are explored throughout the dissertation. To my knowledge, this activist-oriented project is the first of its kind to provide opportunities for neurodivergent musicians to engage in traditional Irish music sessions. As a newly created program, this dissertation contributes to the growing number of applied ethnomusicology projects aimed at addressing social justice issues through on-the-ground initiatives. Due to its success, this project serves as a model for future programs designed to connect diverse communities through participatory music genres; and due to its shortcomings and limitations, it provides an opportunity to critically assess the efficacy of musical ventures designed to bridge the neurotypical-neurodiverse divide.
Ethnomusicology, Neurodiversity, Social Justice, Traditional Irish Music
March 29, 2018.
A Dissertation submitted to the College of Music in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Includes bibliographical references.
Michael B. Bakan, Professor Directing Dissertation; Juliann Woods, University Representative; Sarah Eyerly, Committee Member; Alice-Ann Darrow, Committee Member.
Florida State University