I’ve never been able to hold a pen properly. Pretty much all of my joints bend the wrong way under pressure, and it’s only been in the last few years that I’ve known there was a word for this – hypermobility – and that it is something to guard against. Bending a joint the wrong way hurts it and does it no good at all, but I’ve spent much of my life encouraged to think of body pain as something I shouldn’t make a fuss about.
Going through school, my handwriting was always an issue and there were repeated rounds to correct my pen hold – the pen hold that makes it possible and not too uncomfortable to hold a pen. The backward bending fingers were strangely invisible to the people who wanted to correct me. I had problems with music as well – I could never hold my hands in the correct way for piano playing, could not hold a violin or a violin bow in the approved way either. I expect I lost marks for that on every exam I took.
Our lives are full of assumptions about what is normal, what everyone should be able to do, and what is proper. The right ways to hold knives and folks and teacups. The right kinds of things to do with your body in a gym. For much of my childhood, I had no idea that what happens with my joints isn’t normal, and that the discomfort, through to pain I experienced was a real issue. I was just expected to act like everyone else. Hold the violin properly. I’ve always been clumsy and I only recently found out that goes with the hypermobility and is not some kind of personal failing.
I write this not as an exercise in self pity, but as a small example of how miserable it is when people fail to recognise and accommodate difference. All too often, we ask people to bend themselves into the normal shape, not how we can adapt what’s going on to allow them to participate on their own terms.
There is so much diversity in how people experience the world. How we think and feel, how we move and what we can do with our bodies. The ‘normal’ person probably doesn’t even exist. The degree to which we can pass ourselves off as being the normal person, does.
I don’t know if music exams have changed in the last twenty years – they might have done. Perhaps they are more accepting of innate differences in bodies and students who cannot play while making the standard shapes with their bodies. I was never a great musician, but I was ok. Music was, and remains, important to me. A person who wants to play shouldn’t, surely, be put off and marked down for having a body that does not allow them to hold an instrument in the classically acceptable way.
Folk music of course doesn’t have formal holds, or exams, and it does not reject any needs (or for that matter eccentricities) that a person brings to their playing. It is possible to have good quality music that includes. It is possible to have good quality anything that includes, if there is a will to accommodate rather than asking people to conform to sometimes impossible standards.