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Elizabeth McLain

Elizabeth McLain, Instructor of Musicology

Name, Title
Elizabeth McLain, Instructor of Musicology

School of Performing Arts
241B Squires Student Center (0138)
290 College Avenue
Blacksburg, VA  24061
540-231-5335 |

Elizabeth McLain is an Instructor of Musicology and the interim co-director of the Disability Studies minor at Virginia Tech. She completed her Ph.D. and M.A. in Musicology at the University of Michigan. A proud Hokie, McLain earned a B.A. in Music and a B.A. in History at Virginia Tech.

As a transdisciplinary scholar, McLain has two research areas. Her work on music and spirituality since 1870 confronts assumptions about secularization by deciphering the spiritual and religious references in modernist and postmodernist musical compositions. Devout, skeptical, mystical, or manipulative, a composer’s spiritual journey remains relevant to understanding their works. Her doctoral dissertation was supported by a Lurcy Fellowship; in “The Apolitical as Political: Olivier Messiaen’s Theology, Intellectual World, and Aesthetic Agenda in the 1930s” she argues Messiaen’s ressourcement theology led him to both the Nonconformist politics of Emmanuel Mounier and a Surrealist aesthetic language sanctified by the Catholic poetics of Jacques and Raïssa Maritain. Her recent publications include chapters in Messiaen in Context and Mystic Modern: The Music, Thought, and Legacy of Charles Tournemire as well as an article on George Crumb’s Black Angels for the Journal of Musicological Research.

McLain’s lived experience as a chronically ill cane-wielding autistic compels her to transform music scholarship through the principles of disability justice. She serves as co-chair of the Music and Disability Study Group of the American Musicological Society and is a professional member of RAMPD: Recording Artists and Music Professionals with Disabilities. By connecting disabled-run advocacy organizations, McLain combats ableism in academia with communities of care. Her research on disability culture and the arts has an (auto)ethnographic bent, capturing an insider’s perspective on the creative lives of disabled artists. With the support of an ACLS Digital Justice Seed Grant, her a2ru’s Ground Works team is documenting the inaugural CripTech incubator with an emphasis on ethical consent processes and access. Her current book project is Krip Time: the Rhythm of Disabled Music, Life, and Activism.

McLain’s disability activism in the academy directly impacts her teaching philosophy, from the Student Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility Board report at the University of Michigan to her inclusive pedagogy that draws from the principles of disability justice and Universal Design for Learning. In her first year at Virginia Tech, she received the Sally Bohland Award for Exceptional Leadership in Access and Inclusion. In 2021, she received the Disability Impact Award from the Disability Law Center of Virginia for excellence in providing services, supports, and resources for people with disabilities in Southwest Virginia through innovation, adaptation, and perseverance during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Elizabeth works on behalf of students, faculty, and staff with disabilities at Virginia Tech as co-chair for the Disability Caucus and faculty advisor for the Disability Alliance. She also serves on the board of directors for the New River Valley Disability Resource Center, a Center for Independent Living.

Perhaps her favorite new project, McLain works with Alice Rogers (VT Libraries) and others on access to play. McLain and Rogers have been leading a project to improve cognitive access for TTRPGs (Tabletop Roleplaying Games), which is yielding open access tools developed by and with the disability community. She also has experience in inclusive video and computer gaming, which is a component of her course MUS 2134: Disability Culture & the Arts and has been shared with the Society for Disability Studies in their 2022 national meeting with Martina Svyantek. Playing together is serious business, and everyone should have access to the table.

When not engaged in teaching, research, or activism, you can probably find McLain reading, playing (or GMing) a TTRPG, or spending time with her clever, mischievous, and beloved cat Misha. She will beat you in a Star Wars trivia competition, but you’re welcome to try!

  • Music & Spirituality in the 20th century
  • Disability Culture
  • Inclusive Pedagogy & Universal Design for Learning
  • Modernist movements in the fin-de-siècle and early 20th century
  • Postmodernism
  • PhD in Historical Musicology, University of Michigan
  • MA in Historical Musicology, University of Michigan
  • BA in Music, Virginia Tech
  • BA in History, Virginia Tech
  • Accessibility and Accommodations Working Group
  • Co-Chair, Disability Caucus
  • Access Advocate for CLAHS
  • Secretary, American Musicological Society Music and Disability Study Group
  • Director, New River Valley Disability Resource Center
  • Board Member, Adaptive Sports & Inclusive Recreation Initiative
  • Sally Bohland Award for Exceptional Leadership in Access and Inclusion, 2020

Journal Articles

In Tempore Belli: George Crumb's Black Angels and the Vietnam War.” Journal of Musicological Research 38, no. 1 (2019): 44–68.

Saffle, Michael and Elizabeth McLain. “Edward MacDowell’s Letters to Templeton Strong in the Library of Congress.” Fontes Artis Musicae 66, no. 3 (July–Sept 2019): 23 –51.

“Discourse and Soliloquy: Compositional Techniques of Olivier Messiaen as Exhibited in his Work for Chamber Ensemble and Solo Piano, Oiseaux exotiques.Philologia 2 (2010): 66–72.

Book Chapters

Ressourcement Theology in the Interwar Works of Olivier Messiaen.” In Messiaen in Context. Edited by Robert Sholl. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press (manuscript accepted).

“Messiaen’s L’Ascension: Musical Illumination of Spiritual Texts after the Model of Tournemire’s L’Orgue Mystique.” In Mystic Modern: The Music, Thought, and Legacy of Charles Tournemire. Edited by Stephen Schloesser and Jennifer Donelson.  Richmond: Church Music Association of America, 2014.


  • 2020       “Disability Culture and Community” for the MDisability Internship Program at Michigan Medicine (July 14)
  • 2020       Expert on Disability Culture for Webinar on Disability Access in the Workplace, Guardian Insurance (May 20)
  • 2019       Disability and Universal Design for Learning: Workshops for Faculty/Staff and GSIs, University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance, 24 October.
  • 2019       Disabled User Experience Panel, Big Ten Academic Alliance Library Conference, Ann Arbor MI, 22 May.
  • MUS 3135 & 3136: History and Analysis of Musical Styles
  • MUS 3145 & 3146: Musical Styles Literature Lab
  • MUS 3114: Symphonic Literature
  • MUS 3124: Twentieth-Century Music Literature
  • MUS 4124/RLCL 4104: Special Topics in Music History and Literature / Advanced Humanities Topics: Music and Spirituality in the Twentieth Century