Aural Diversity and EDI in Music Higher Education

Addressing the ‘Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in Music Higher Education’ conference.

Yesterday, I gave a paper about Aural Diversity during the ‘Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in Music Higher Education‘ one-day conference at City University, London. Over 120 people attended, and it covered a range of topics, mainly focusing on EDI issues in relation to ethnicity, gender and sexuality. The complete text of my paper is reproduced below. You can also view the slides on Slideshare.

I’ve given papers on Aural Diversity at quite a few Audiology conferences before, but this was the first time I’d spoken on the subject at a Music conference. One of the questions I was asked concerned how music curricula could be adapted to include Aural Diversity. In the past I’ve suggested to audiologists that they should include music in their courses, so this time I recommended that every music programme should include at least an introduction to the hearing mechanism, from ear to brain. To me, this is like learning how one’s instrument is constructed. But I can’t remember, as a student, ever being told about this, let alone the array of differences and disorders that can affect listening. My suggestion is that, once students become aware of their hearing, some more complex and subtle questions will emerge, which could then be dealt with responsively in a flexible way.

The conference was very good and there were some terrific papers, including a fascinating presentation by Ellan Alethia Lincoln-Hyde about Marjorie Lawrence. However, it did strike me how much ‘disability’ tends to be ignored or marginalised in EDI discussions. Judging by the (very complimentary) comments I received following my paper, many people had never even thought about hearing as an EDI issue at all. The conference set-up did not seem to take much account of hearing issues either. I had to spend time initialising the PA and microphone before I began (I was the third presenter), and I couldn’t mix with people because the noise in the breakout room was so loud. Social isolation is one price of hearing impairment (not to mention autism).

I regard the content of my paper as just basic. It’s astonishing to me that people (myself included until around 2009) are so unaware of hearing differences. In music, of all topics, one might expect that people would be extremely conscious of listening. Yet it seems that the majority pay it little or no attention. Perhaps this has something to do with musicians (who are four times more likely to develop hearing problems) wanting to keep any impairments secret, for fear of damaging their careers. If that is true, then I would just urge everyone to speak out about this. Reasonable adjustments can, and should, be made!

I was asked whether composition could be used to address aural diversity. I was very happy to be able to refer to the Aural Diversity concerts as proof positive. I also described my diplacusis piano, which seemed to spark some interest.