Quick Links

Vanier Prize Winner - Jessica Holmes

Jessica Holmes - 2012 Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship Winner

About Jessica Holmes:

Jessica first began studying music seriously in Toronto when she attended Cardinal Carter Academy for the Arts for their prestigious strings program. In 2004 she began her Bachelor of Music degree at the University of Western Ontario where she studied cello with Thomas Wiebe and majored in music history. She remained at Western to complete her Masters degree in Musicology; during that time she developed a keen interest in the intersections between music, subjectivity, the voice, and the body. Meanwhile, she spent her summers planting trees and picking cherries in the British Columbia interior to finance her studies.

Upon completion of her MA in 2009, Jessica took some time off academics to work in the non-profit sector. She worked first as a music instructor at the Glen Eden Multi Modal Centre in Vancouver, a school providing one-on-one custom education for children and teens with severe developmental disabilities. From 2010-2011, she served as music facilitator at Lifetime Networks Victoria, a non-profit organization that establishes social networks for adults with developmental disabilities. Here she organized weekly drop-in music groups, leading groups in singing while simultaneously accompanying them on guitar. These unique experiences strengthened Jessica’s interest in music and the body, and of course, it was here that she first became fascinated with musicological explorations of disability and music, a now burgeoning field.

Jessica began the PhD Musicology program at McGill in September 2011, and is working under the direction of Dr. Lloyd Whitesell. She continues to teach music lessons to individuals with disabilities and is an avid yoga practitioner.

What she will be researching

Her study aims to fill the gap in our knowledge of disability in relation to musical performance through application of theories of embodiment. The prima materia for her study will be the documented experiences of three contemporary performers with diverse disabilities: composer singer Meredith Monk, who identifies as visually challenged, percussionist Evelyn Glennie, who identifies as profoundly deaf, and critically acclaimed bass/baritone singer Thomas Quasthoff, a victim of Thalidomide poisoning.

She will consider how each of these musicians approaches the particulars of their individual bodies as they simultaneously navigate specific performance spaces and confront the usual challenges of musical interpretation and production. She will suggest that each of these artists’ distinct approaches to musical performance offers a powerful alternative to conventional concepts of hearing, listening, and feeling music. This project will demonstrate how musicians with disabilities provide powerful artistic insight, create poignant musical experiences for audiences, challenge cultural attitudes toward disability, and enrich our understanding of the human experience.

What the Vanier funding means to Jessica 

“I feel so grateful and honoured by this distinction and especially honoured that my research is being recognized in this manner. The Vanier will enable me to carry through with my project, providing the funding necessary for research and conference travel, as well as covering all tuition and living expenses. I feel privileged to be among those selected.”