The Music, Language, and Culture Workshop

April 9 – Ibby Grace and Michael Bakan at EthNoise!

Please join us Thursday, April 9 for “Thinking in Music”: A Dialogue between Autistic Self-Advocate Ibby Grace and Ethnomusicologist Michael Bakan. Please find the abstract below.

In preparation for the discussion, Michael Bakan encourages you to read his recent article in Ethnomusicology: “‘Don’t Go Changing to Try and Please Me’: Combating Essentialism Through Ethnography in the Ethnomusicology of Autism,” which will serve as a prelude to the discussion.  (Please check your email for the password and link or email

We will meet from 4:30-6:00pm in Goodspeed 205. As always, our workshop is open to the public and all are welcome.


“Thinking in Music”: A Dialogue between Autistic Self-Advocate Ibby Grace and Ethnomusicologist Michael Bakan 

“I sort of ‘think in music’ in the same way Temple Grandin says she ‘thinks in pictures,’” writes the Autistic scholar, professor, activist, and musician Dr. Elizabeth J. “Ibby” Grace. “Sometimes in order to think, I structure the thoughts into [something] more like music, or they do themselves like that….This enables me socially in ways I would have no chance of access to without [music]….”

What does it mean to “think in music” from an Autistic perspective? How can music enable social efficacy and reciprocity on the part of neurodivergent individuals, especially those who may find other modes of communicative expression and exchange—speaking, conversational interaction, and gestural communication foremost among them—to be not only challenging but positively disenabling? How is music employed to “harmonize” language and the self in the experiential world of an Autistic person who describes herself as one who thinks not in words or in pictures, but rather in music?

These are some of the questions that were addressed in a series of online dialogues between Ibby Grace and the ethnomusicologist Michael Bakan over the course of a six-month period in 2014. The transcripts of these dialogues form the basis of a chapter on Grace in Bakan’s forthcoming book, “Speaking of Music: Conversations with Autistic Thinkers.” This EthNoise session provides an opportunity for Grace and Bakan to engage in a live dialogue of reflection and exploration centered on the documented record of their previous online exchanges. The format will involve Bakan presenting selected passages from the online dialogue transcripts of the book and inviting Grace to respond to and comment upon them. This will open up avenues for further discussion between the two presenters, and in turn with the other workshop participants.

“Speaking of Music” is not a book about dialogues or based on dialogues; it is a book of dialogues. Here that book’s dialogical and agentive priorities will be extended to encompass the intertextuality of the actual work with both the collaborative partners responsible for its creation and a community of scholars and activist thinkers—the EthNoise community—that is ideally positioned to critically engage with and advance the larger project of an ethnomusicology of autism and neurodiversity.


Michael Bakan is Professor of Ethnomusicology and Head of World Music in the College of Music at Florida State University.

Elizabeth J. Grace is Assistant Professor of Disability and Equity in Education in the College of Education at National-Louis University.


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