CATHERINE BRANCH LEWIS, flute
INTRODUCTION (Catherine Branch Lewis)
As a flutist with diplegic cerebral palsy, I’ve been given a unique perspective on music’s versatility, especially regarding its ability to act as a catalyst for conversations and an instigator of positive change. During the last several years I’ve been exploring the classical concert as a vehicle to encourage re-evaluation of generalizations, and thereby to promote inclusion and equality for people with disabilities. Much of that exploration has been via a concert project called “Music of Difference,” which arose during my travels in 2008 and 2009 on a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship.
The Watson fellowship gave me a precious opportunity: to dive freely into the wider world, spending a year reflecting on the experience of disability and what it means to me, connecting with an international community of disabled people, and finding ways to contribute to the disability rights movement with respect and creativity. It was during those first several months abroad that I began connecting with great numbers of other disabled people. (What a refreshing, joyous feeling it was to find other people who walk in shoes similar to my own!) I began learning about the colorful and relatively hidden world of disability arts, and reflected over many a cup of tea about different peoples’ experiences and perspectives on disability.
I met extraordinary people and heard their stories and struggles, observed drama and music classes being taught to young people with a massive range of body types, and had the chance to teach several classes of children with disabilities about the world of classical music. And I traveled to disability arts conventions and symposiums, finding myself overwhelmed by incredibly powerful and creative expressions of life and disability through music, dance and art.
But as I traveled, I was struck by the pervading negativity associated with disability worldwide. I found myself searching for ways to express the gratitude and appreciation I feel toward my unusual body. I remained convinced that having a disability was not a “defect,” but an experience. And just as each of our experiences shape who we are and who we become, the experience of disability can add a unique and positive perspective to one’s life.
I began writing to composer colleagues and posting to online composition listservs, hoping to gather together a program of music aimed specifically at reflecting positively about disability. I have been so touched by the series of emails that showed up in my inbox, full of scores, stories, gestures of support and encouragement, and even offers to compose pieces especially for the “Music of Difference” project. Several months later, a program made of brand new works had come together, all reflecting on disability from a wide range of perspectives. An Australian pianist, violinist and I joined together to present the first two “Music of Difference” concerts in Sydney and Melbourne. Upon returning to the United States, the “Music of Difference” project continued to grow. The extraordinary performers, composers and visual artist who contributed to this album joined me, and we presented concerts and outreach events at venues in Washington, DC and throughout New York.