IU assistant musicology professor Jill Rogers wasn’t sure what would come of her idea for a conference on music, sound and trauma. She didn’t know if it could still happen once the COVID-19 pandemic hit. At one point, she didn’t think she would get the grant she needed to fund it.
But now, “Music, Sound, and Trauma: Interdisciplinary Perspectives,” happening virtually Feb. 12-14, has five keynote speakers and more than 100 other events on the docket. It’s the first conference of its kind to gather professionals working at the intersection of music, sound and trauma, according to an IU news release. The conference is free and open to the public.
“I’m trying not to think about how big this could possibly get,” Rogers said. “I’m already freaking out.”
Music and trauma have an intertwined and sometimes harmful relationship, Rogers said. Sometimes, music is used to cope with trauma, but other times, it’s used to inflict it. For example, Rogers said Marilyn Manson-style heavy metal and the Barney theme song have both been blasted over prison speakers to torture inmates.
In addition to speeches, the conference will include recitals, lectures and presentations spanning topics such as psychology, sound studies, literature, theater, history, medicine and more. Funded by an IU Arts & Humanities grant, it will serve as a gathering place for ideas and research that Rogers and her colleagues will compile into an Oxford Handbook on music, sound and trauma.
“We hadn’t really had a space where we could all share our work,” Rogers said. “I really love creating community. The people working on music, sound and trauma are all really kind and creative.”
Though the conference was Rogers’s brainchild, she said she had a lot of help developing ideas and putting it together. Fellow music and trauma experts Erin Brooks of State University of New York at Potsdam and Michelle Meinhart of Trinity Laban Conservatory both helped plan the conference, and all three were devoted to pulling it off — funding or no funding.
Rogers said the three of them were sitting on a Zoom call discussing their next steps for if they didn’t win the IU Arts & Humanities grant when Rogers got the email saying they actually had.
“It was a total scream fest, with all of us screaming in excitement,” Rogers said. “You can tell we’re all giant nerds for music, sound and trauma.”
Rogers also had the help of students like graduate assistant Jacqueline Fortier, who’s a doctoral student in musicology. Fortier said she hopes the conference will open up discussions about music and trauma, particularly on how they relate to current events.
“I’m most excited about work related to events in present time, specifically police brutality, systemic racism, homophobia,” Fortier said. “I hope it will create conversation about trauma and music.”
One of the keynote speakers, Maria Hamilton Abegunde, said she will be presenting on the importance of breathwork. She said breathing is tied to all aspects of life, evidenced by events like the Black Lives Matter movement, famous for the phrase “I can’t breathe.”
“We’re thinking about how we use music and sound to bring us back to harmony,” Abegunde said. “The breath helps to regulate the many systems in our body. We know that we are alive through our breath.”
Rogers said her ultimate goal for the conference is to convey the importance of paying attention to trauma of all kinds.
“You can’t really process or heal before you acknowledge,” she said. “My ultimate goal is to help people heal from trauma and recover from trauma, if that’s what they want to do.”