Allan Floyd works on music at the D-Man Music Therapy Studio as, from left, Ziad Kassab, founder and chairman; Nabil Ansara, engineer, and Jennifer Dixon, music therapist, help. The recording studio is barrier free to accommodate anyone with special needs. (Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News)
Berkley – — Tucked away in a nondescript group of one-story cinder block buildings along 11 Mile is a unique studio where aspiring musicians are overcoming physical challenges to pursue their dreams.
People such as Allan Floyd of Detroit, whose life changed dramatically in 2007 after a hit-and-run driver rear-ended him at a red traffic light, turning Floyd’s vehicle into what he described as “an accordion.”
Floyd barely survived the crash and went into cardiac arrest twice in the hospital emergency room. He later came out of a coma to find his spine had been seriously damaged. He could no longer move his arms or legs. He’s still battling back.
“It’s one thing to believe in a miracle,” the 43-year-old Floyd grinned. “It’s another thing to be one.”
Today, Floyd is pursuing his passion — music — in what is believed by music therapists to be the only barrier-free, nonprofit music studio in Michigan. The D-Man (Danny’s Miracle Angel Network) Music Therapy studio, which opened in April, is the creation of Ziad S. Kassab and his brother, Calvin, both inspired by a young brother’s dream to make a rap recording.
“My younger brother Danny was seriously injured in a car accident which left him quadriplegic,” Ziad Kassab said. “He was on a ventilator for 16 years and his breathing made it difficult for him to make a recording in the normal fashion. We recorded him and edited out delays for his breathing on the ventilator.
“When Danny heard it, he said: ‘Wow, that’s what my voice would sound like if I could breath on my own,’ ” Kassab said.
“Danny died a few months afterward,” he added. “I was determined to keep his dream alive for others.”
To make that possible, Kassab is organizing a fundraiser Friday in Pontiac to raise money to pay for studio time for those with special needs.
“Every $50 will pay for an hour of studio time,” said Kassab, who is also vice president of Guardian Angel Home Health Care in Rochester Hills. “We have seven clients who currently use the facility. I have a goal of this growing to be something much larger.”
The studio uses technology that allows users to control recording equipment without the use of hands or feet. An electronic device worn on eyeglasses or a forehead acts like a computer mouse, enabling the user to select computer programs on a screen. GarageBand software provides its users a choice of 150 instruments. By breathing in and out of a plastic straw linked to a keyboard, those without the use of their hands or feet can activate controls, Kassab said.
A drive-in garage permits clients to avoid dealing with bad weather when getting in and out of vehicles. Wide aisles and doorways provide access throughout the studio.
The computer control board can be raised or lowered to accommodate wheelchairs. A studio window separating artists from an engineer is lowered so everyone can make eye contact. Microphones are set lower to the floor and on devices that can be easily wheeled and placed anywhere in the studio.
“We want to give patients back the opportunity that was taken away from them,” Kassab said. “By providing the resources to create music, we can help erase the stigma of being disabled.”
The recordings are more therapy than anything else, although some of those who use the studio hope to one day land a contract or to sell their music commercially.
Helping in the program is Nabil Ansara, a recording engineer, who with his SandBoxx recording business has worked with some well-known artists, including Jay-Z, Eminem and 50 Cent. Ansara previously operated a studio in Plymouth.
“This is a very exciting project and I’m glad to be a part of it,” Ansara said. “I had T-Money Green, a bassist with the Dramatics, in here the other night and he was knocked out by what we’re doing and said next time we want a bass in the studio to let him know. Here’s a guy who has played with Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and others.”
Board certified music therapist Jennifer Dixon, who works with some of the people recording at the studio, said music has been proven to be an important element in helping patients — especially those with paraplegic and quadriplegic injuries — overcome their physical challenges.
It can improve motor and sensory functioning, physical speech skills, coping and provide a psychological and emotional lift as clients forget about their disabilities and focus on what they are able to accomplish.
“We set objectives and help design a program to meet their individual needs,” Dixon said. “Something like this traditionally takes place in a hospital. A professional setting, especially one that accommodates the client’s need, is helpful in meeting their goals. Music is something we all respond to and it enables us to connect.”