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That is why my undergraduate thesis project focused on the music and stories of the forgotten elderly population in the former coal fields of Central Pennsylvania.


That is why my master’s research focused on new strategies to use student artwork to increase the effectiveness in health education in an orphanage on the coast of Ghana, West Africa.


HOW DID IT AFFECT YOU GROWING UP?


I always sought opportunities to sing, to act, to speak publicly even before I learned the controls. Singing was the easiest way to be like the other kids. Acting also diffused the stuttering as long as I stayed in character. My teachers would never let me retreat from speaking when they knew I had something to say. For them, even when they placed me in situations where I would stutter publicly, I am deeply grateful.


HOW DOES STUTTERING AFFECT YOU AS A PROFESSOR?


I begin every class with an introduction that includes an explanation of my disability and a demonstration of my natural speech without the controls. I do this to ensure that my students will not be distracted on the days when, due to fatigue or sickness, I may not be able to hold the controls to the highest level. I have found that this builds trust with my students. It breaks through some of the barriers between teacher and student inherent in the college classroom. It tends to encourage more open and honest conversation, more trusted risk-taking in small/large group discussion, and a willingness to apply the big ideas of Humanities authors to their lives in concrete ways.


WHAT HAS IT INSPIRED YOU TO RESEARCH/WRITE ABOUT?


I never wanted to be the stutterer who plays music. I just wanted to be a musician. Similarly, I never wanted to be the stutterer who is a good teacher. I just wanted to be a good teacher. Now, in middle age, after having played and composed music from Carnegie Hall to Antarctica, I have come to reflect more on the relationship between my disability and my music. My fellowship with Kennedy Center supported this exploration.


Before I learned the control that I now use, music provided the only relief from the physical and emotional distress of stuttering. Music circumnavigates this disability in the human brain and has a measurable effect. Stuttering silenced me, music gave me a voice. I have come to realize that this has driven much of my musical and scholarly work.


"I CONTINUE TO ENJOY PEELING BACK THE LAYERS OF UNDERSTANDING OF HOW MY STUTTERING MOLDS AND SHAPES MY WORK."


That is why I seek the hidden voices in the silence of the ice. Sonifying (translating numerical data sets into melodies and harmonies) Antarctic data gives a new musical voice to the effects of climate change.


I continue to enjoy peeling back the layers of understanding of how my stuttering molds and shapes my work. I am thankful for all the people that help me along this unfolding journey.


WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES STUTTERING HAS PRESENTED?


The daily fatigue of holding on to the controls.


WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT WITH REGARD TO STUTTERING?


Every time I get through a speaking situation is an achievement, especially those high-profile situations where stress and pressure push back on the controls. If achievement is defined by holding the controls against various pressures and distractions, I guess the times when I have given public addresses and TEDx talks or negotiated in Italian or Spanish count among those times. If achievement means turning off the controls to reach out to children that struggle with any number of challenges, then I can count those times. If achievement means controlling my speech so I can share my love and devotion to my wife and children, especially when it’s difficult, then we can count those times. If achievement means composing music out of the desire to communicate those things that I couldn’t because of stuttering or those things that go beyond words, let’s count those times too.


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