Music education is a right not a privilege (DMF 3)
Updated: Sep 10, 2021
Ken Trush rented rooms by the hour when he started Daniel’s Music Foundation (DMF). He would unpack and pack away all the instruments every day but used this experience to inform the design of the new purpose-built facility. I noticed during my tour that everywhere was pristine and a vast array of beautiful musical instruments and equipment filled the rooms. They even paint the walls twice a year to keep it looking fresh. “We wanted it to be the Disney World of music studios, so they feel important when they enter” said Ken.
After 2 years searching for the right location, Ken finally settled on East Harlem, a neighbourhood which faces many challenges, so they are more accepting and welcoming of people with developmental disabilities than other parts of the City.
I was keen to understand more about the teaching and Ken’s views on music education verses music therapy. In my experience, some people understand the distinction while others just think they’re same. To my delight, Ken was forthright in telling me that DMF offer music education, not therapy. “When Daniel had a brain aneurysm 13 years ago, he had 5 therapies a day. There was no down time, no break. Everything was corrective therapy and goal setting. All this does is make people feel like they are broken”.
True to their philosophy of acceptance and value, Daniel’s Music Foundation helps people feel comfortable in their own skin, secure in the knowledge that they are fine just the way they are. Feeling valued is just as therapeutic as anything else.
Performance was another aspect we had in common. Daniel and his fellow musicians have certainly put on some fantastic shows in their time, such as an appearance in a Broadway concert, a musical evening with Alan Menken and several renditions of the National Anthem in huge sports stadiums. “Without performances to aim for, fatigue sets in”, Ken continued. “Everyone loves the applause. It makes us feel important”.
Ken was sincere, helpful and, in his own words, “an open-book”. We exchanged gifts (I gave him a Winston Churchill Medallion and he gave me a beautiful hardback book about his son, Daniel). The meeting was both enlightening and validating. I could learn so much from his delivery model to take back to the UK.
The “foundation” of the foundation are the free group classes for people with developmental disabilities aged 3 to adult. They run 5 days a week for 30 weeks and culminate in a performance in a free music festival, hosted twice a year at an outside venue. Students can study singing, drumming and percussion, composition, keyboard, guitar, DJ and band. There is a waiting list of up to a year for these classes.
The centre also offers one-to-one private teaching for the disabled community and general public ($75 per hour), baby and me sessions ($60 per month) and classes for special schools, adult day centres and other organisations ($180 per hour for up to 12 participants).
Their Diversity Through Music Initiative is a free volunteer program for schools and corporations using the universal language of music to build a bridge between individuals with disabilities and the general public. This provides the opportunity for people to appreciate each other while experiencing the joy of music together. It typically means talks and performances in the community or invitations for groups to attend an hour presentation before volunteering in a music class at the centre. This is also an ideal opportunity to attract funding because corporations attend the training and witness first-hand the charity in action in a permanent home with longevity.
Ken and I shared the same passion and ambition for our respective projects, but my host had a very personal story that led him to this point. 13 years ago, he and his wife were told to say goodbye to their son after his brain aneurysm. Choking back his tears, Ken described how the last thing he did was smell his son’s hair. When Daniel surprised everyone by pulling though, his Dad made a promise that his son was going to have a good life. He set up Daniel’s Music Foundation because Daniel loved music. It began with one class of 5 members but now serves over a hundred every week.
I felt privileged to have spoken to Ken and I will take his final words with me all the way home:
Music education is a right not a privilege.
Read the final Churchill Fellowship report here.