When Daniel Trush was 13 years old, he collapsed out of the blue in his school gym. One of the five undetected aneurisms in Daniel’s brain had ruptured, sending him into a coma in March of 1997. On the second night after the accident, Daniel’s condition worsened and his parents, Ken and Nancy Trush, prepared themselves for the unthinkable. But something changed and Daniel held on.
Over the course of what turned out to be a 30-day coma and 341 total days in the hospital and rehab, Ken sang to his son. “You can say I love you many times and it loses its power. So I decided to write a song,” he first explained during a talk at 2018’s TEDxBroadway. (Watch the full talk in the video above.)
“You’re leaving your child there for the night,” Trush told Playbill in a separate interview, “and I would walk out and start singing ‘I believe in you, doop doop / Yes I do, doop doop / No matter how long it takes doop doop doop.’ I sang it every night and then all of a sudden he started singing ‘doop doop’ and I was like ‘Whoa!’” Daniel’s first words after first collapsing that day came through song.
As Daniel gained strength, one of his neurologists suggested music therapy as a part of his recovery regiment. “His doctor explained that music activates more parts of the brain than just about any other activity plus he was a musician and it would allow him to express himself,” said Trush.
And the Trushes are now set on bringing music, its joy, and its live-saving powers to those with developmental and physical disabilities through Daniel’s Music Foundation. The Foundation is a hub of socialization and community-building for an underserved population through music. “It was about socialization right from the start,” said Ken. “I think we’re the first organization that concentrates on music-making and enjoyment and not trying to get a result or goal.”
“I was having five therapies a day that were just me and a therapist,” his son said. And as many milestones as that helped him reach, “we want to make DMF more group-oriented, so that people can work with others their own age and their own ability level.”
Founded in 2005, DMF now offers dozens of free classes to students ages three through adult five days a week broken up into two semesters (September to December, February to May) and a July summer session. Each semester teaches music based on a theme (this spring is “I Love the 80s”), but it was a Broadway-themed semester that put DMF on the map. “We were actually part of Yankees’ Hope Week in 2011,” Daniel said of the Major League Baseball team’s annual tradition to spotlight one worthy organization each day for five days. “We kicked off that week and they heard it was our Broadway semester so they rented out the Brooks Atkinson Theatre for me and members to perform.”
That was the tipping point for the organization, which now operates out of a full-service accessible facility on New York City’s Upper East Side. Students can take classes in keyboard, guitar, dance, DJ, lyric composition, and percussion. The facility is stocked with over $75,000 worth of instruments and equipment, including some specifically made for those with disabilities like the NSL (“not so loud”) drum. “It’s focused specifically for our community, so it emits a much lower tone—because there are sensory issues with the community we serve—you can put it on the floor, wheelchairs can roll up to it,” explains Carla Sullivan, the Foundations’ Chief Marketing and Development Director. When you walk into a DMF classroom, the culture is one of inclusivity and caring. “There’s a lot of energy, so as soon as you get off the elevator you feel it,” said Sullivan.
Instructors range from music therapists to special education teachers proficient in music to performers looking to give back. All group classes are free, funded by donations, fees made through special needs schools’ field trips to DMF, fees for private lessons, and an annual gala. This year’s gala takes place May 22 and features performances by DMF students. This year DMF is able to offer one free private session per week from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
In addition to classes, DMF offers a myriad of events sprinkled throughout the year, from the musical festival that tops of each semester to DMF Underground which uses “music as a bridge between our community and the outside music community,” Sullivan aid. “We bring outside artists in to do a 30-minute set and then it turns into an open mic night. Our members, sometimes because of their physical limitations, can’t go in a basement bar in Alphabet City because it’s not handicap accessible. So we bring the music to them.”
The Foundation has become a wild success, on track to serve 20,000 participants this year, with a year-long waiting list. They’re now expanding beyond the four walls with the Diversity Awareness Initiative. “It’s basically a free program for groups—either a school or organization or corporation—where we use music as a bridge between the DMF community and the general public,” Ken said. He wants to dispel stereotypes about those with disabilities and break down barriers of discomfort between communities. Back in 1997, Trush told himself “if Daniel for some reason survives, I made a promise that he would have a meaningful life … and I promised that our family would make a meaningful contribution to the community,” said Rush. Together, they’ve done that in spades.
For more information about Daniel’s Music Foundation or to find about how to register for classes, click here.
Ruthie Fierberg is the Senior Features Editor of Playbill covering all things theatre and co-hosting the Opening Night Red Carpet livestreams on Playbill's Facebook. Follow her on Twitter @RuthiesATrain, on Instagram @ruthiefierceberg, or via her website.