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Molly Joyce: “I don’t view it as a limitation”

I don’t view it as a limitation, I view it as freedom. My limitation has opened a unique way of being and living in the world, and I cannot imagine life without it. People often make assumptions about body mobility and ability which personally drive me crazy, as my body’s immobility is out of my control. […]

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I don’t view it as a limitation, I view it as freedom. My limitation has opened a unique way of being and living in the world, and I cannot imagine life without it.

People often make assumptions about body mobility and ability which personally drive me crazy, as my body’s immobility is out of my control. I therefore believe it’s essential to initiate access checks in welcoming all bodies to all spaces.

That it’s not only in the medical realm but also the social and cultural, as not only pathology but identity.


As a part of our “Unstoppable” series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Molly Joyce.

Molly Joyce’s music has been described as one of “serene power” (New York Times), written to “superb effect” (The Wire), and “impassioned” (The Washington Post). She has received support from Halcyon Arts Lab, New Music USA, Foundation for Contemporary Arts, Headlands Center for the Arts, Embassy of Foreign Artists, Swatch Art Peace Hotel, The Watermill Center, and her work has been presented at TEDxMidAtlantic, Bang on a Can Marathon, Danspace Project, and in Pitchfork and Red Bull Radio. Molly often sings and plays with her vintage toy organ, an instrument she bought on eBay and loves for how it engages with her disabled left hand, and her debut full-length album featuring such was released in June 2020 on New Amsterdam Records, and has been praised by the New York Times as producing an “airy, liberating sensation” and New Sounds as “a powerful response to something (namely, physical disability of any kind) that is still too often stigmatized, but that Joyce has used as a creative prompt.”

Molly has collaborated across disciplines including with visual artist Julianne Swartz, choreographer Kelsey Connolly, director Austin Regan, and writer Marco Grosse. She studied at The Juilliard School, Royal Conservatory in The Hague, Yale School of Music, and currently serves on the composition faculty at New York University Steinhardt. For more information, please visit www.mollyjoyce.comhttps://content.thriveglobal.com/media/a0c9fa7eb6b4b7c2398bf6d7e893a9ab


Thank you so much for doing this with us! It is really an honor. Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

Thank you for having me! I am active as a composer and performer, and my work focuses on disability as a creative source. I have an impaired left hand from a previous car accident twenty years ago, and artistically this often comes in musical output on my vintage toy organ, an instrument originally bought on eBay which I love due to how it fits my physically-different hands, as well as video and collaborations with collegial artists to illuminate such.

Do you feel comfortable sharing with us the story surrounding how you became disabled or became ill? What mental shift did you make to not let that “stop you”?

I impaired my left hand in previous car accident twenty years ago, however it took nearly twenty years to identify as and embrace my disabled experience.

A critical shift came with discovering disability studies in graduate school and specifically the social model of disability, which identifies systemic, physical, and attitudinal barriers that socially construct disability. Discovering such was immensely life-changing, and revelatory to read scholarship that identifies the social construction of disability as well the unique offerings disability contributes as an identity and social and cultural experience. This encouraged me to artistically embrace and interrogate my disabled experience more and more, specifically that of my acquired disability and asking what happens when physical movement and sensation leaves one’s body and what happens at the end of physicality.

Can you tell our readers about the accomplishments you have been able to make despite your disability or illness ?

I feel I have been able to achieve significant accomplishments in terms of my career as a composer and performer, including writing for many performers and ensembles worldwide as well as performing and speaking on my experiences. However I feel that all of these are connected to my embrace of disability, not despite of it.

What advice would you give to other people who have disabilities or limitations?

To embrace one’s imperfections as much as possible, realizing that “ability” is all fiction.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?

My family and most notably my father, mother, and sister. They have been continually and undeniably supportive among my challenging and unusual yet rewarding journey, and I will never be able to thank them enough for their support.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I hope my success has brought more attention and awareness around disability as an identity and experience for all to embrace and learn from. I also try to promote collegial disabled artists, scholars and varying disabled perspectives, including with publications Disability Arts Online, Women in Foreign Policy and a recent communally-engaged project initiated with a fellowship at Halcyon Arts Lab in Washington, DC.

Can you share “5 things I wish people understood or knew about people with physical limitations” and why.

I don’t view it as a limitation, I view it as freedom. My limitation has opened a unique way of being and living in the world, and I cannot imagine life without it.

Cure is fiction — a response by composer, pianist, and musicologist Stefan Sunandan Honisch to a question for a communally-engaged project I’m developing. This reply very much resonated with me the focus on cure can sometimes be detrimental to disabled people’s overall well-being.

People often make assumptions about body mobility and ability which personally drive me crazy, as my body’s immobility is out of my control. I therefore believe it’s essential to initiate access checks in welcoming all bodies to all spaces.

For me there is often a loss of control in the body and how the body will change as you age, which can be frightening and also freeing.

That it’s not only in the medical realm but also the social and cultural, as not only pathology but identity.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?

The myth of more.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this 🙂

Tim Ferriss! I’ve been obsessed with his books and podcast since completing graduate school, and they have always taught me much on building one’s life the way you want to live it.

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