I’ve hurt my ankle. It is very obvious that I’ve got a physical difficulty, because I’m wearing a whopping great big bandage and limping. It’s also obvious without the bandage (see below if you’re not squeamish). Providing I don’t move too much, however, I’m feeling OK.
I was at the ISME policy commission seminar when I tripped over yesterday, and colleagues there have been incredibly helpful, showing real concern about my health. I really appreciate their generosity, but it’s got me thinking about visibility. If I’d developed toothache or stomach cramps yesterday, would they have noticed? Would these people, many of whom I only met this week, have felt that it was appropriate to make comments about any symptoms I did exhibit? And would I have even let them know that I was feeling unwell? I don’t need to tell anyone about my foot – it’s completely visible. Were other members of the group actually suffering from their own difficulties, and in far more discomfort than me, without the rest of us knowing?
The first thought to arise is that we should take care not to base our actions and responses only on what we can see. Also that what we do become aware of (whether visible or invisible) may not tell the whole story. For example, my ISME colleagues aren’t aware of my long history with muscular difficulties, and that my main worry was therefore not about my ankle, but about how moving unevenly to protect it might trigger considerable back pain. This also prompts consideration about whether we perhaps make judgments and assumptions about people’s work/behaviour/manners when their physical and mental health (both of which could be visible or invisible) might be massively limiting their capabilities.
Then there’s musical encounters, and what is visible or invisible about the people there. We know that appearances and marketing count a great deal in some parts of the music industry. And we probably all know people who are made more visible by their personality and intentions, or because of their choice of instrument/genre, compared to experts whose significant contributions may not receive the same public attention. This might apply to groups of professional musicians, to amateurs, or to children in our classrooms and school concerts. Perhaps being visible isn’t always a good thing: popping into Tesco is probably much easier for the “invisible” members of Coldplay than it is for Chris Martin.
How does that apply to our own musical encounters? Who is visible and what musics are visible? Which musical voices are being heard? The answers may be very different. And who should be visible and heard within a particular context? That might be another answer again.