5 (More) Disabled Musicians to Know

July is Disability Pride Month, a chance to share the experiences, struggles, and achievements of people with disabilities. This month marks the 33rd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which prohibited discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, public services, and other areas. To celebrate Disability Pride Month, CYSO Marketing Intern Marisa Lin put together a collection of 5 musicians with disabilities, some famous and some lesser known, but all worth exploring and adding to your playlist.

Adrian Anantawan

Adrian Anantawan playing the violin

Adrian Anantawan is a Canadian violinist of Thai-Chinese descent who has performed at the White House, the United Nations, and in the opening ceremony of the Vancouver Olympic Games. He was born without fingers on his right hand and around age 10, a local rehabilitation center created a device that allowed him to play the violin using a handle attached to the bow. He went on to study at the Curtis Institute of Music, Yale University, and eventually received a master’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. On top of being a violinist and educator, Anantawan is also a disability advocate who dreams of giving children with disabilities the opportunity to express themselves through music alongside their able-bodied peers. He helped create the Virtual Chamber Music Initiative at the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehab Centre, a project that aims to develop adaptive musical instruments for children with disabilities.

Maria Theresia von Paradis

Portrait of Maria Theresia von Paradis

Maria Theresia von Paradis was a 19th century Austrian pianist, composer, and educator who became blind at an early age. She studied with some of the greatest musicians of her time including Antonio Salieri, Leopold Koželuch, and Vincenzo Righini. Later she went on to tour in Europe, performing in Paris, Prague, London, and Berlin. As she was nearing 50 years old, von Paradis switched to composition and also founded a music school for girls who were blind. Paradis is known as ‘The Blind Enchantress’ since Mozart, Haydn, and Salieri all composed pieces for her. She was deeply respected by composers of her time and among her famous works include the Sicilienne in E-flat major.

Rahsaan Roland Kirk

Rahsaan Roland Kirk playing three saxophones at once

Rahsaan Roland Kirk was a respected jazz musician who performed at Carnegie Hall and was famous to play three saxophones at the same time in some of his performances. He was born in Columbus, Ohio and became blind at the age of two. In 1941, Kirk enrolled in the Ohio State School for the Blind where he trained on the clarinet and saxophone. He went on to play at local jazz clubs and then joined the Charles Mingus Jazz Workshop in 1961. Kirk also fought for racial equality and fair treatment of people with disabilities, and he additionally led the Jazz and People’s Movement in the early 1970s to broadcast more jazz and Black musicians on TV. Unfortunately, Kirk suffered a serious stroke in 1975 that left half of his body paralyzed. However, he continued to tour and play with only one hand until his death in 1977.

Maurice Ravel

Maurice Ravel writing on a notebook

Maurice Ravel was one of the most prominent Impressionist composers of the 20th century. Born in France, he began piano lessons at the age of six and entered the Paris Conservatoire at age 14 where he composed some of his famous works including his Sonatine for Piano and String Quartet in F-major. Ravel’s early works are regarded as nearly as mature as works from later in his life. However, at age 52, signs of organic brain disease began to show in Ravel. Even with his progressive brain disease, he continued to compose one of his most famous works, Boléro, which some suspect shows traces of his loss of left brain function through the repetition of two themes eight times. Sadly in the last few years of his life, Ravel suffered with aphasia, which prevented him from speaking or writing more music.

Alexander Scriabin

Portrait of Alexander Scriabin

Alexander Scriabin was a Russian pianist and composer who was born in 1872. His early compositions were inspired by the well-known composer of the Romantic period, Frédéric Chopin. He entered the Moscow Conservatory in 1888 to study piano but at 20 years old, suffered an overuse injury of his right hand while practicing. Following the injury, Scriabin’s works were dominated by virtuosic use of his left hand. Although he eventually recovered, Scriabin remained uneasy over the well-being of his right hand for the rest of his career. He toured the United States from 1906-1907 and throughout his life, composed a total of ten sonatas, a piano concerto, and several preludes. One of his famous works includes The Poem of Ecstasy, Op. 54, which CYSO’s Symphony Orchestra performed at Orchestra Hall in the Fall of 2011.

ABOUT MARISA

Marisa LinMarisa Lin is a violinist soon to be in CYSO’s Concert Orchestra and rising junior at Lyons Township High School. Marisa wrote this post as part of her role as CYSO’s Summer 2023 Marketing Intern. When she’s not practicing, you can find Marisa developing new recipes for her baking blog or taking goofy pictures of her dog.

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