CNMN > Projects > The Astonishing Jam Sessions with Astonished !

Chelsea Jones & Helen Pridmore

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  • Voix
  • Adultes
  • Associations communautaires
  • Santé
  • Diversité
  • Besoins particuliers (par ex. Syndrome de Down)
  • Limitations physiques (par ex. Paralysie cérébrale, Sclérose en plaques)

The Astonishing Jam Sessions with Astonished !


This entry is a co-writ­ten account of “jam sessions”—an impro­vi­sa­tio­nal musi­cal prac­tice based in Regi­na, Sas­kat­che­wan that embraces and accounts for radi­cal forms of access in sonic expres­sion with disa­bled and Deaf folx. The wri­ters here are Dr. Helen Prid­more, a musi­cian-aca­de­mic who ori­gi­nal­ly deve­lo­ped the idea for “jam ses­sions,” and Dr. Chel­sea Jones, a Mitacs Post­doc­to­ral Fel­low who assis­ted in sup­por­ting this vibrant work. The par­ti­ci­pants in this pro­ject are mem­bers of The Big Sky Centre for Lear­ning and Being Asto­ni­shed ! [insert URL :], more com­mon­ly known as Astonished!.


  1. Intro­du­cing Jam Sessions


Helen : In ear­ly sum­mer 2019, I began to work with Asto­ni­shed!, a fami­ly-dri­ven com­mu­ni­ty based orga­ni­za­tion offe­ring crea­tive and edu­ca­tio­nal oppor­tu­ni­ties for young people with com­plex phy­si­cal disabilities.


Chel­sea : At the time, my research focu­sed on what “voice” can mean in the context of a bur­geo­ning, but under­re­pre­sen­ted, disa­bi­li­ty and Deaf art move­ment on the Cana­dian prai­ries. I am not a musi­cian, so the ele­ment of impro­vi­sa­tio­nal music-making was enti­re­ly new to me. I do, howe­ver, stron­gly believe in doing work that usurps ableist and colo­nial ambi­tions of “giving voice,” which is why it was impor­tant for me to sup­port Helen’s jam ses­sions, which conti­nue to be an impor­tant cultu­ral contri­bu­tion to the disa­bi­li­ty arts scene in Regina.


Helen : My work with Asto­ni­shed ! is part of a large-scale pro­ject fun­ded by the Cana­da Coun­cil for the Arts. Entit­led Mul­ti­PLAY, this pro­ject brings toge­ther artists and com­mu­ni­ties across Cana­da, explo­ring impro­vi­sa­tion, tech­no­lo­gy and col­la­bo­ra­tion. The first step in buil­ding jam ses­sions was to meet with Asto­ni­shed ! mem­bers in Decem­ber 2018 to explain how impro­vi­sa­tio­nal music making can work. Chel­sea and I  pre­sen­ted the idea to student resear­chers and sta­ke­hol­ders (such as fami­ly members).

  1. Moving Beyond “Voice” through Jam Sessions


Helen : In ear­ly 2019, Asto­ni­shed ! participants—known as student resear­chers for their role as desi­gners and par­ti­ci­pants in uni­ver­si­ty-based research projects—and I met regu­lar­ly in sum­mer 2019 and ongoing into the fall, explo­ring ways to impro­vise toge­ther.  I wan­ted to encou­rage explo­ra­tion of what would be pos­sible for them, and to dimi­nish fears that the vocal sounds pro­du­ced were “not good enough” or “not nor­mal.”  What is a nor­mal vocal sound, any­way ?  My own world as a sin­ger embraces many dif­ferent types of vocal sound, inten­tio­nal­ly explo­ring vocal pos­si­bi­li­ties and wor­king to break down ste­reo­types of vocal “beau­ty.”

  1. Wor­king with Technology


Chel­sea : I began atten­ding the group’s jam ses­sions. I took notes as part of my par­ti­ci­pant-obser­va­tion research. To ini­tiate ideas and to over­come ini­tial shy­ness at using voices, we used some elec­tro­nic tools such as iPads loa­ded with sound-making apps, and a loo­per which recor­ded and re-played sounds and voices.

Helen : One of the first impro­vi­sa­tions we tried toge­ther was an audio depic­tion of Bren­da MacLau­chlan, one of the foun­ders of Asto­ni­shed!, on her bicycle.


“Ima­gine Bren­da riding to cam­pus (the Uni­ver­si­ty of Regi­na cam­pus, where ses­sions were held) against the wind.  What kind of sound does her bicycle make ?  Now she’s locking up the bike, and coming to meet us…and now she is coas­ting home with the wind behind her…”


These kinds of visual sti­mu­li, foun­ded in real life and fea­tu­ring a well-loved friend, pro­vo­ked col­la­bo­ra­tive sound-making and some fun.


Chel­sea : Because this work invol­ved a com­bi­na­tion of embo­died voices and tech­no­lo­gy, I spent time out­side of the jam ses­sions work with Asto­ni­shed ! student resear­chers on lear­ning the tech­no­lo­gy. This meant trying new tools—iPads, phone apps, edi­ting soft­ware, voice recor­ders, and keyboards—and lear­ning them for the first time, toge­ther. The idea was to find tech­no­lo­gies that gel­led with people’s ambi­tions in sonic crea­tion and fit their embo­died modes of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. For example, when it was not pos­sible for some par­ti­ci­pants to hold iPads, Helen found mic stand attach­ments to hold and ele­vate the iPads for easier access.

Helen : As the sum­mer pro­gres­sed, the group began to explore actual vocal sounds, crea­ting sound­scapes on various themes. We re-crea­ted the sounds of atten­ding a foot­ball game ; we sha­red sto­ries from sum­mer camp, such as canoe trips and camp­fire ghost sto­ries ; and we had some good laughs mixed in with the hesi­ta­tion to use voices which func­tion in their own way.

  1. Going Public : Jam Ses­sions as Disa­bi­li­ty Artivism


Helen : My inter­est in wor­king with the Asto­ni­shed ! student resear­chers is foun­ded on my own research inter­ests in expe­ri­men­tal voice and impro­vi­sa­tion.  Howe­ver, I must empha­size that my inter­est grew as I got to know this remar­kable group of young people.  I was espe­cial­ly impres­sed with their efforts and crea­ti­vi­ty at the public sym­po­sium held in Regi­na in Novem­ber 2019, “Disa­bi­li­ty Arti­vism Across the Flyo­ver Pro­vinces.” Orga­ni­zed and pro­du­ced by Chel­sea, this one-day sym­po­sium fea­tu­red a varie­ty of guest spea­kers, pre­sen­ta­tions and round­table dis­cus­sions, based on the themes of disa­bi­li­ty arts and crea­ti­vi­ty. Our jam ses­sion group was plea­sed to be fea­tu­red in the day’s acti­vi­ties, and we pre­sen­ted a live impro­vi­sa­tion based on “a day in the life of an Asto­ni­shed ! student researcher.”


Chel­sea : Fol­lo­wing the lead of other major disa­bi­li­ty-led arts events in Cana­da, such as Crip­ping the Arts [URL :] and Ren­dez­vous with Mad­ness [URL :] that cele­brate arts-based advo­ca­cy, this gathe­ring focu­sed on local disa­bi­li­ty arts entan­gle­ments with regio­nal unders­tan­ding of disa­bi­li­ty poli­tics by asking : how does the work of disa­bled arts disrupt—or “crip”—normative artis­tic prac­tices on the prai­ries ? The col­lec­tive jam ses­sion ser­ved as a radi­cal arts prac­tice that might best be des­cri­bed using the words of Lucia Carl­son in her 2016 chap­ter, “Music, Intel­lec­tual Disa­bi­li­ty, and Human Flourishing”:

“This was not a the­ra­peu­tic endea­vor with a set goal ; rather than being direc­ted at tea­ching, nor­ma­li­zing, or culti­va­ting par­ti­cu­lar skills, this musi­cal expe­rience unfol­ded orga­ni­cal­ly and was valuable and valued for its own sake” (p. 41). 

Helen : Because our improv was sound-based, we were conscious that it was not ful­ly rea­ching out to eve­ryone in the audience, as we had a large crowd of Deaf and hard-of-hea­ring par­ti­ci­pants at the sym­po­sium.  The­re­fore it was a delight to invite our col­league, lea­ding edu­ca­tor in Deaf and hard-of-hea­ring pro­grams Dr. Joanne Weber, to lead a move­ment- and ges­ture-based improv that invol­ved the entire audience.  Dr. Weber pas­sed on the lea­der­ship to one of her Deaf stu­dents and he ani­ma­ted­ly led the crowd in a spi­ri­ted improv that inclu­ded both sound and action.

Helen : I was thril­led to see and hear the par­ti­ci­pa­tion of a large group in the impro­vi­sa­tion that began with the Asto­ni­shed ! jam group.  While the jam ses­sions are cur­rent­ly in hia­tus due to the pan­de­mic, it is my hope that I can conti­nue to explore sound impro­vi­sa­tion with this friend­ly and enga­ged group of student resear­chers. Wor­king with them has cer­tain­ly enlar­ged my unders­tan­ding of vocal beauty.

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