Entertainment & Culture

Disability and entertainment: the feeling of music

Hayleigh Barclay is delighted to join in with Disability Horizons to offer a monthly article on entertainment. Hayleigh has a Masters in Creative Media Practises, is doing a Doctorate of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and she’s going to use her expertise to open up the world of entertainment to Disability Horizon’s readers.  This month, the feeling of music.


I have a confession to make… I’m not a morning person! This might not seem like that big of a deal as 90% probably share the same allergy to the A.M part of a clock, but I am talking about being the mother of all bitches when the sun comes up. For many people a cup of coffee seems to shake the morning blues away but for me it requires at least one hour of listening to music. Alone!

They say that music soothes the savage beast and I can categorically confirm that this is true. I once passed a guy strumming a guitar and as luck would have it the strings were at my exact ear level (one of the perks of permanently sitting down). Instantly, an inexplicable wave of calm washed over me… and possibly removed the 666 from the back of my head!

I put this miracle down to one thing – the rare few who were born when the stars aligned and the Gods felt benevolent giving these people the extension of having the gift to command a stage whilst pounding the strings of a Fender and bearing their hearts and souls into a microphone. These are the people who have blessed us all. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the Rock Gods and Goddesses!

It would be easy for us to dismiss our musical deities as being the chosen few who get to experience the delights of the whole ‘Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll’ lifestyle whilst spreading their good word across countries by means of tour bus. But, with this calling comes a serious duty to sacrifice themselves to give their chosen people – the fans – the message of truth that is music! Obviously, this duty is a two way street, and we, their loyal followers have the same amount of responsibility of spreading the word by buying or downloading albums; badgering and converting potential followers (friends, family, Facebook acquaintances…) with how “awesome”, “epic”, “lifesaving” band X, Y or Z is; waking up ridiculously early to wait an hour in a phone queue to buy tickets for a gig. Confession – I neglected eating, washing and all social etiquette in order to take the pilgrimage of ordering tickets to a Muse gig only to discover the tickets didn’t go on sale for another hour. Note to self: read the commandments on ticket websites carefully! These duties should not to be taken lightly by any follower with or without a disability. So help ye Ozzy – Prince of Darkness!

Okay, back to reality. Obviously having certain disabilities means that the person may have a different relationship to music as someone who is able bodied. For instance, being a wheelchair user, like me, with extremely limited mobility means that dancing or jumping up and down in the front row at a gig is out of the question. I don’t play an instrument and despite the ongoing joke between practically everyone I know about my singing voice – it’s a touchy subject – I can’t hold a tune to save myself. It’s Simon Cowell’s loss really, and so my enjoyment of music comes from a purely emotional bond.

I was texting a good friend of mine Gary a couple of weeks ago giving advice about de-stressing after a particularly difficult week, the conversation went like this:

Me: Please tell me hon you’ve felt the release that comes with listening to rock music??

Gary: The release…?

Me: Like a sense of freedom

Gary: Huh…?

Me: Oh hon… You need to rock out more… When did you last play guitar??

It turns out he’s more of a comic book aficionado! But this piece of friendly banter got me thinking how people respond differently to various stimuli. You may have noted my use of the words release and freedom in the above quote. For me this might be the epitome of my relationship towards music. It provides the opportunity and channel for me to escape the confines of the body, escapism if you like, almost like an out of body experience. Whether it is, the lyrics, beat, rhythm or the particular mood of the genre, something gravitates at the core and opens up a space where an identity separate to reality becomes an intangible result.

That is not to say that having a disability does not prevent the body from being affected by music. One of my favourite experiences whilst being at a gig is feeling the ground reverberate from the pounding of the bass and having the vibration move up through my chair and throughout my body. I have heard many people complain that they dislike this sensation, I have never understood why… In my opinion anything that makes flesh and bones feel alive is positive! By the way this may or may not include “admiring” the appearance of certain band members!

I have also found that although making shapes on a dancefloor isn’t viable I can create a small movement in my muscles to make them flex in time to a beat. I often find myself doing this unconsciously whenever listening to my iPod or watching music channels. I have to say in a rather egotistical manner that my timing is flawless! I was possibly a drummer in a previous life. Does this motion count as exercise? Should we contact the British Medical Association? Is there a niche in the market for this potential new workout DVD? Who knows!

Music can also be used effectively as a communication device. I can’t count how many times I have struggled to convey a feeling or thought and suddenly find myself hearing a song and thinking “that’s it, that’s how I feel!” Usually you hear the artist talking about how they wrote the song for such and such a person or they needed to find an outlet to convey their hidden ideas/emotions/story. What amazes me is that these works of art can be translated to transcend the original meaning to become a communication tool for listeners. This is true for all people whether or not they have a disability, but for those of us who do, it can be an added bonus to free us from what can often feel like a very isolating experience.

When listening to music one is no longer labelled or confined by their disability. They are a fan, a groupie and a worshiper of the musical Gods! In the beginning there was music and in the end there will always be music. Here endeth the lesson!

By Hayleigh Barclay

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Hayleigh Barclay

Graduated in 2019 with a Doctorate of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. Scottish based, usually plugged into her iPod or watching too many Viking documentaries.
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