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Universal language

Adrian Moody, BHSc’05, and Adam Haines, BESc/BSc’04, create a musical world without barriers

by Adela Talbot, BA'08, MA'11 | May 8, 2017

Adrian Moody and Adam Haines
Adrian Moody, BHSc’05, and Adam Haines, BESc/BSc’04, create a musical world without barriers. (PHOTO BY FRANK NEUFELD)

It all started with Joey.

When Adrian Moody, BHSc’05, met the young boy more than three years ago, Joey had cerebral palsy, was non-verbal and communicated only by typing into a digitized device called a Vanguard. Moody, a Toronto-based musician and producer, had heard of Joey – who at 5 “wrote great poetry” – from a teacher at the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital. The teacher wanted to involve the young poet in a music class, but didn’t know how. 

“His lyrics were this really cool poetry. I looked at this kid and I saw an artist, not a kid with a disability. I took his lyrics and we sat in the studio and did a little song-writing session. He was super excited,” Moody said. “It was really fun. It was one of the most amazing song-writing experiences because it was so natural and flowing – and this is a 5-year-old kid. He was really into it.”

Moody knew he was onto something. His studio had technology and software that could turn Joey’s lyrics into a song, one Joey would sing and record – something the boy and his parents never considered to be a possibility. Moody spent a couple of weeks manipulating the recording, stretching the digitized speech and building a melody around the words.

“His parents didn’t know he could get involved with music. When I sent the recording back to them, when I met them and saw the tears of joy, the kid bouncing off the walls, to me, it was like, ‘Wow. This is something special that’s been done,’” he said.

“That started the questioning for me. This software exists; the talent is here; there’s musical resources that exist. Is anybody out there doing something like this to help children like Joey, and children who might have a disability, in making music?”

Moody called Adam Haines, a friend he met while studying at Western and what followed was a “cocktail-napkin meeting” that changed everything.

“Adrian told me this story over breakfast one day and I was blown away, not just by hearing the music, which was amazing, but also hearing the reaction from his parents,” said Haines, BESc/BSc’04.

An engineer and entrepreneur, Haines had spent the bulk of his career in start-ups, mainly in the software industry. When Moody shared Joey’s story, he knew it was the perfect partnership the two had been looking for since their days at Western.

“As our careers diverged over the years, we always kept in touch and remained close friends. But it wasn’t until Adrian worked with Joey that the opportunity revealed,” Haines noted.

As an engineer, Haines got excited about the practical application of technology to change lives. If the technology Moody had in his studio could manipulate digitized sound and help one aspiring, however differently-abled, child make music, what else could be done?

Adrian Moody and Adam Haines
Adrian Moody, BHSc’05, and Adam Haines, BESc/BSc’04, create a musical world without barriers. (PHOTO BY FRANK NEUFELD)

And that’s when Music Without Barriers was born.

Incorporated in 2014, Music Without Barriers facilitates collaboration between aspiring artists with disabilities and a community of musicians, artists, technologists and disability-support personnel.

Through their involvement in music, a universal language, aspiring musicians, regardless of their limitations or abilities, can find a voice. They can express themselves and participate in something they previously might have considered to be unattainable, Moody noted. Music Without Barriers’ mission is quite literal in that it wants to eliminate all obstructions to musical expression – be they cognitive, physical or financial.

“It was because of Joey’s song that we got our next project. Someone in (his) school realized how awesome it was. We got a TV interview with Global News and, after that interview, had a lot of parents with children of a variety of abilities reaching out to us, asking how they could get involved,” Moody said.

Often lost in the process is the profound impact these projects can have on parents – many of whom never realized this was possible for their child.

Moody continued, “When we go work with artists, whether they are children or not, we show this is what they’re capable of by filming it, putting it on YouTube, putting it on our website. When we share that, parents come forward and they think it’s amazing. What we do really opens the eyes of the community to what’s possible. It’s pretty awesome; it’s magical.”

It’s a fun challenge to figure out who they can help with the resources they have, Haines added. If a child has cerebral palsy and cannot move his or her arms, they should still get the opportunity to have that magical feeling of strumming a guitar the first time. There’s so much out there you can do with eye tracking, with touch sensors and other technologies. It’s about connecting those dots, he said.

“The work we’ve done so far is largely on the backs of our bones, with few resources in terms of funding, some generous donations from the community in Toronto, from friends and family, families of artists. We need the support of the community around us to sustain us and grow our programming,” Haines said.

It’s about facilitating and ensuring more stories like Joey’s are possible, added Moody. And that means some expanding is in the future for Music Without Barriers.

“A traditional studio isn’t accessible for everybody. We have a vehicle in which we have all this equipment. Really, you can take a studio anywhere, bring it into people’s homes. We want to be able to provide group programming – to community service centres and to provide music discovery for children that didn’t know some of these technologies exist,” he noted.

“We want to see Music Without Barriers hubs in different cities across Canada, the world, where artists can come and make the kind of music that is near and dear to their hearts. We believe it’s not too hard to make a better world through this, just by giving people the opportunity to be creative and express themselves musically,” Moody continued.

“Music is the universal language; it crosses borders; it crosses language barriers; it can cross physical and cognitive barriers as well. You just need someone to show you the way and that’s why we do it.”

This article appeared in the Spring 2017 edition of Alumni Gazette
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