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April 30, 2004

The Detroit News

The Broe Therapy Choir members wore sky-blue robes, lined up by their respective heights and sang sweetly on cue Tuesday afternoon. Waldo E. Lessenger Elementary’s 270 students, grades K-4, not only listened raptly to “Michael Row Your Boat Ashore” and “You Are My Sunshine,” but they also heard what brought the 26-member choir together. And it wasn’t just to sing a cappella.

Every member had suffered some kind of closed-head injury. Some choir members were injured because they hadn’t worn a seat belt in a car accident. Others were hurt because they didn’t wear a helmet, then crashed their bicycle or motorcycle. Some had been assaulted. Now, the members of the Broe Therapy Choir are using their misfortune to teach school children about safety.

Their school visit and the importance of their message wasn’t lost on children like fourth-grader Bryanna Collins. “I learned never to drink and drive and to always wear your seat belt,” said the 10-year-old Collins, shyly staring down at the floor. “They told what can happen to you if you’re not careful.” Len McCulloch, director of psychological services at the Farmington Hills-based Broe Rehabilitation, said while choir members’ injuries have limited their own capabilities, their current condition encourages youngsters to take more care in their everyday lives. It also helps the choir members, who range in age from 19-58.

“Some of the choir has trouble stringing words or thoughts together when they speak, yet find singing quite therapeutic,” he said. “It helps with their rehabilitation and also self-esteem. When you have hundreds of children and the news media coming out to see and hear you, it gives you a feeling what it’s like to be a celebrity.” McCulloch said he came up with the idea for the choir almost by accident. Five years ago, he was inspired while working with Lewis Jackson, now 44, who had been misdiagnosed as schizophrenic and spent 18 years in the Northville Regional Psychiatric Hospital.

“He actually had a traumatic head injury,” McCulloch said. “He couldn’t speak, yet he was always humming. One day I asked him if he liked to sing and if he could sing me something. “He let out an incredible rendition of ‘Amazing Grace.’ ” Victims of closed-head injuries often can express themselves or communicate more easily in song rather than normal speaking, McCulloch said, adding that singing also is a great form of brain exercise, which helps patients with their own individual therapy and rehabilitation.

McCulloch said the choir has expanded to between 20 and 32 members, depending on their physical condition. Most live in residential homes supervised by Broe, but some live with relatives. The choir has performed before 80 school groups to date, recorded four CDs and been the subject of electronic and print news reports. They will perform next month at the Farmington Area Arts Council, two schools in Farmington Hills and a third school in Redford. Choir member Cheryl Knapp, 35, of Dearborn Heights was a legal secretary for one of Metro Detroit’s top law firms until she was rear-ended by another motorist and injured about a year ago.

“I use to know (trigonometry); now I have to relearn basic math, and English and reading,” she said. “Sometimes I have a hard time finding the words I want to use. Sometimes my mind goes blank. “The choir helps me because I can do it (sing),” she said. Lessenger Principal Ronald Payok said this is the second time the choir has performed for students. “This is important for our kids to see what can happen when you don’t take simple safety precautions,” Payok said. “Good lessons for our kids.”

Posted by acapnews at April 30, 2004 8:54 AM

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