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I wonder if this is going to sound silly, I'd rather vent this anonymously online first before taking any action in the real world... I'm doing a Bachelor's Degree in Creative Writing and part of our next assignment is on Mozart. The music they've selected us to analyze is his Horn Concerto No. 2. Due to my autistic spectrum disorder, I find certain frequencies/noises to be irritating to listen to, it's this sort of throbbing in my inner ear like when you listen to something that is too loud or at the wrong frequency. I think it's related to my sensory processing disorder in some way, I have similar issues with tactile sensations. The Horn Concerto causes this throbbing/vibration and trying to analyze it is uncomfortable/painful.

This sounds ridiculous but would it be wrong of me to ask my tutor if I could do another piece of his music like Lacrimosa/Requiem or the 9th Symphony for one half of my assignment? I enjoy both those pieces, Mozart has such a wide variety of music to choose from and I'd hate to have to choose something else just because of my condition. Feedback would be much appreciated.

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    Not an answer to your question per se, but it’s quite easy using common music apps to take an audio file and shift all the frequencies up or down by some desired amount without changing the tempo. The sound quality degrades a bit but not by much. If your discomfort is really associated only with specific frequencies, consider the possibility that that will solve the issue and allow you to complete the assignment without making any requests.
    – Dan Romik
    Oct 27, 2021 at 4:20
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    There is even easier path to try. Try listening to the same piece performed by different people, or even on a different instrument. Almost anything more or less well known can be found played on piano.
    – fraxinus
    Oct 27, 2021 at 10:16
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    I did this once, of course its ok.
    – tommsch
    Oct 27, 2021 at 16:15
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    Personally, if I set an assessment task that caused physical discomfort for one of my students then I would want them to tell me so that I could change it.
    – kaya3
    Oct 27, 2021 at 17:30
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    I think you have a disabled access requirement to study a different piece of music. I'm disabled; my experience is that when I say 'I have disabled access requirement X', this language helps. Your additional needs sound very reasonable to me; certainly not ridiculous. In general I think people are required to make reasonable adjustments for such things
    – Joe
    Oct 28, 2021 at 14:30

5 Answers 5

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would it be wrong of me to ask my tutor if I could do another piece of his music like Lacrimosa/Requiem or the 9th Symphony for one half of my assignment?

No, it wouldn't be unreasonable to ask and in many places accommodation would be required by law. But in some other places what they should do and what they will do might be quite different. I would hope that the UK requires appropriate accommodation.

But you should ask and explain your reasoning. In fact, since the program isn't one in music at all, it might be necessary for someone like me (almost completely deaf and totally deaf in certain frequencies) to use a completely different assignment that doesn't depend on normal hearing.

I've had to give up music - even Bob Dylan - sad.

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You're majoring in Writing. Write about how irritated you get with those notes and yes, emphasize your spectrum disorder. That should give your prof a fresh perspective about how "other" people view Mozart. You could do a whole book about this even to a point comparing autistic and neurotypicals who also hate listening to that type of music.

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    The OP describes it as "uncomfortable/painful". I don't think they should have to suffer through discomfort and pain to get their point across to the professor. If I was the professor and I read an assignment written like this, I would ask the student: why didn't you just tell me so I could give you a different piece to write about?
    – kaya3
    Oct 27, 2021 at 17:37
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    On the other hand, if this is something that OP wants to do, there's nothing stopping them from clearing this with their Professor first. They can both make sure this can be done in a way that still accomplishes the goals of the assignment, and this avoids getting into a situation like the one @kaya3 describes. Oct 28, 2021 at 0:14
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    This has nothing to do with hating Mozart. Oct 29, 2021 at 2:39
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This sounds ridiculous

It's not ridiculous, you're feeling physical discomfort. Plus, how can you be inspired to write creatively by something that's mostly grating for you to even listen to?

but would it be wrong of me to ask my tutor etc.

It's perfectly fine, but:

  • Your tutor might give you some sort of excuse, like "I have to give everyone the same piece" or "I can't make this decision myself" or whatever. I don't think that's a valid excuse, but it might happen.
  • Make an effort your request to sound respectful and non-aggressive, and not like a demand. You've explained it pretty well here, i.e. focusing on how it affects you; just make sure to use an appropriate tone of voice. Also, don't make a concrete suggestion for an alternative piece; rather, first wait for your tutor to acknowledge the problem, and either ask you for a suggestion or start wondering out loud what to do.
  • Your tutor might have another alternative, e.g. using a painting instead of a musical piece; or even letting the other assignments have more weight in the final grade and letting you skip this one.
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    I agree, especially with the point of not suggesting specific pieces. This might give rise to the thought that you want it, because you know it well already. Instead explain what exactly is the problem and with which kind of music you are fine and giving some pieces as examples for which is ok. And speaking from experience, most professors are quite understanding in such regards (speaking from the point of view as a graduate student and tutor).
    – trikPu
    Oct 28, 2021 at 10:55
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Asking for accommodation is fine -- remembering that there are laws that dictate whether such a request must be honored, and that many profs will respond to polite and timely requests, whether they are required to or not.

I don't think you should recommend a piece for replacement though. That might offer you an advantage over other students. My preference would be to do your best to communicate what disturbs you in the original piece (perhaps indicating times of such passages in a recording), examples of works that don't disturb you, and ask the prof to do their best to offer you an option that you wouldn't find disturbing.

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    If I were the professor, I would welcome the suggestion of an alternative. Otherwise, I'd have to spend a lot of time listening to different pieces of music, trying to guess what would or wouldn't cause OP's discomfort. Oct 29, 2021 at 1:47
  • @DawoodibnKareem -- the point is that a pre-familiarity with a piece may prove an unfair advantage. Perhaps an alternate assignment assessing the same metrics is the best option. Oct 29, 2021 at 13:16
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You can certainly ask but there are several potential issues with your request. I'm always reluctant to modify an assignment for a student because, if I do it for one student, then I have to be willing to do it for everyone. I understand that you have a situation that makes the assignment problematic but I have no way of confirming that and I definitely don't want to put myself in the position of trying to decide what constitutes a good reason and what doesn't.

It's true that faculty are legally required to provide accommodations for students with disabilities but this is only the case for disabilities that have been confirmed by the university. We can't make this decision unilaterally and, for better or worse, this is a situation that the federal government takes very seriously. That means that there are lawyers involved and, whenever lawyers get involved, things get very rigid. I'm required to give students the accommodations the disability office has decide they get and I'm specifically required not to do anything else. If I do, we're back to having potential fairness issues with the other students in the class.

The path forward for you should be to go to the disability services office at your school, provide them documentation of your condition (or find out what documentation they want to see) and have them provide an official accommodation notice that you give to your professors. Unfortunately, that's a process that probably won't be done in time for this assignment.

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    There's nothing necessarily wrong with this, but I would point out that it seems to me that you are answering based on an unconfirmed assumption that the OP has not reported his condition/disability to their University.
    – CGCampbell
    Oct 27, 2021 at 9:49
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    In the UK (mentioned in the OP's profile) a disability does not have to be "confirmed", and ASD disorders are really hard to get diagnosed, even in childhood. Obviously a diagnosis helps, and it's good practice not to spring something unexpected on the organisation, but having been notified of a disability qualifying under the Disability Discrimination Act, the duty to accommodate applies. Disputes need to be dealt with by the courts, but "You don't have a disability" is quite uncommon. [A reasonable adjustment may be to suggest a different work of Mozart's, or a different arrangement of it.] Oct 27, 2021 at 10:46
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    This may just be my opinion but, you should be willing to modify the assignment for every student. If there is an innate problem with the assignment, such that every student is asking you to change it, it would be extremely stubborn of you not to change it.
    – Zibbobz
    Oct 27, 2021 at 14:06
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    I really don't see how there would be any fairness issue raised by the professor simply assigning a different piece of music from the list of pieces of music they must already have drawn up for the task. If the pieces aren't all of equal difficulty to write about then the assessment was already unfair, otherwise if they are of equal difficulty to write about then assigning a different one is still fair. I also agree with Zibbobz; "if I do the right thing once then I will have to do the right thing more times" is not a good argument against doing the right thing.
    – kaya3
    Oct 27, 2021 at 17:24
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    For some kinds of accommodation request, I would agree with this answer’s stance — when they compromise the fairness/appropriateness of the assignment, or put a large extra burden on the instructors. But for requests like this, which seem easy to grant, I don’t see any reason to be unwilling.
    – PLL
    Oct 27, 2021 at 20:49

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