Blades of glory: can we have the same conversation in music?


When Oscar Pistorius was beaten to the line by Brazil’s Alan Fonteles Cardoso Oliveira in the 200m sprint, he reacted furiously, telling the TV cameras in his post-race interview that “we aren’t racing a fair race”. It’s not unheard of for athletes to ‘sound off’ in the moments after losing, with the adrenaline pumping and four years of careful preparation at stake.

But in the context of disability and sport, it feels like a positive development of sorts, and here’s why: in the past, Paralympians might not have been taken so seriously by the public or the media e.g. “don’t get so angry, you did well just to take part”; or a display of anger or hurt by a beaten disabled athlete may have been met with polite awkwardness by a public still out of step with disability in general. Equally, the classificatons of different athletes based on the nature of their disabilities may well have been poorly understood in recent years, due to the lower profile of the Paralympics in general.

Pistorius’s – and also Jody Cundy at the velodrome’s – outburst is the real deal, a moment that illuminates a competitive edge and determination equal to any competitor in the Olympics. Equally, to find media commentators – and people down the pub – discussing the relative merits of running blades at length is real progress, showing how far into the mainstream’s consciousness this Paralympics has crept. These are new conversations indeed.

Bringing it back to music education and disability, we’re simply not yet having these types of discussions yet. Charles Hazlewood’s Paraorchestra will surely kick start further debate as will further progress on bringing the best examples of music making with disabled musicians under a national spotlight. Drake Music have just been awarded ‘Spotlighting’ funding by Youth Music to do just this, and we’ll be striving to get musicians and educators watching each other’s work and debating high quality music performed by disabled (and also alongside non-disabled) musicians.

Only through a wider audience seeing music performed by skilled, disabled musicians will the conversations become more interesting and complex, leading to more positive perceptions from the music community and wider public.

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