Brain Injury Student – Plays Piano and iPad

Brain Injury - Connor Derraugh

Brain Injury Student - Plays Piano and iPad at the Same Time

Brain Injury leaves 14 year old award winning musical sensation paralyzed on his right side. Can a Brain Injury and a headline like that possibly be a success story? I'd like to share this story with you.

Watch this brain injury student playing piano and iPad (at the same time I might add), to create his own success story. (Video Below) He happened to be my student and it is a different kind of success story.

Meet Connor Derraugh. He plays piano plus 5 other instruments, has recorded 2 CD's, has composed numerous pieces, plays in his own band AND he sings. A teacher's "dream student"!  Connor is a SUCCESS story.

June 8, 2010 was to be Connor's Gr. 8 Piano Exam. Two days after Connor's 14th birthday, (May 9, 2010), he went into the hospital for routine day surgery.

I was expecting him the next day for his piano lesson in preparation for his exam in a few weeks. Then I got a phone call from his parents that changed everything. Something went horribly wrong during surgery which resulted in a brain injury  - 2 brain hemorrhages; a stroke. He was paralyzed on the right side of his body. Would he ever play the piano again?

Brain Injury Success #1 - Connor played with his left hand.

Brain Injury - HospitalConnor's parents brought his keyboard to the hospital.

His right hand lay still on his lap while only his left hand could barely recall the keys he had so effortlessly played only a few days ago.

His Grade 8 piano exam would not be completed in the weeks ahead, even though I knew he would have passed with First Class Honors with Distinction.

Brain Injury Success #2 - Connor reached those butterflies.

Brain Injury - ButterfliesAfter a month in the hospital, Connor had to learn to walk again, one step at a time.

Raising his right arm was the greatest challenge of all.

Everyday increasing his walking distance, wishing he could do one more lap and maybe reach those butterflies.

Finally the day came. Connor reached those butterflies. Something that seemed so simply, brought such joy of accomplishment.

Brain Injury Success #3 - Connor begins to play again.

Brain Injury - KeyboardFinally, Connor got to go home and open his still unwrapped birthday gift, a new keyboard.

He was finally going to start to play his beloved music again. His journey back would be a very long and slow one, and one that required patience, encouragement and vision of all that is possible.

Connor was still my "dream student" because of his zest for life and great PMA - Positive Mental Attitude.

Brain Injury Success # 3 - Connor played with his right hand.

Brain Injury - ConnorEight months later... 2011.  Connor slowly began to use his right hand. Because of Connor’s amazing parents, (Jeff and Lori), his family, teachers and friends, Connor continued to slowly make progress. I wanted to share with you an email I received from Jeff (Connor's dad).

“Hi Glory, I have been reading ‘This is Your Brain on Music’, I was curious to see what it was all about and truth be known, I couldn’t put it down.

It’s by Dr. Daniel J. Levitin, a former session musician and record producer who became interested in the inner workings of the human brain as it relates to music.

As Levitin states, the common belief used to be that the right side of the brain (Connor’s unaffected side) was the mind’s music center, but now the thought is that the entire brain is involved in playing, creating, and even appreciating music. Listening to music coordinates more disparate parts of the brain than almost anything else – and playing music uses even more!

According to the author not only does listening to music ‘cause a cascade of brain regions to become activated’ but when people listen to music dopamine is released in the brain, and dopamine as you may know means pleasure. ‘Music is clearly a means for improving people’s moods.’ Perhaps that explains the change we see in Connor when he plays music.

Brain Injury Success # 4 - Connor performed with the band.

Brain Injury - PerformThe University of Manitoba Jazz Program faculty head honcho Steve Kirby asked Connor if he'd like to sit in with the staff and students in a get together to jam. Connor lumbered up to the keyboard, his jaw thrust high, his right hand held awkwardly at his side and sat down.

Once his hands touched the keys however, Connor was all business, right into the music, moving his body to the Stevie Wonder classic ‘Living For the City’ in a euphoric state of bliss, communicating to the other musicians jazz cat style with knowing nods and gestures.

Connor took the piano solo and as per his adapted style, pulled it off with his right hand dangling by his side as his left hand rocked its way up and down the keyboard.

When his solo wrapped and the band returned to the melody, Connor received a great round of applause. His day had been turned around. It was a privilege and a breakthrough for Connor, not to mention a huge boost to his self-confidence. Connor’s entire being comes to life when he’s in the music zone – especially if he’s playing for an audience. He’s clearly in his happy place.”

Brain Injury Success # 5 - Connor playing piano and iPad.

As of June 2014, Connor's journey still continues. Three years after his surgery Connor returned to complete his Grade 8 piano. He has spent many hours with his left hand restrained so he would be forced to concentrate on his right hand. Getting bored with nothing to do with his left hand, he came up with a plan.

Watch Connor - My Brain Injury Student, as he is playing piano and playing an iPad game - at the same time.

What is the meaning of Success? As music educators we strive for excellence. We want high marks in examinations, awards at music festivals, recognition of accomplishments through various scholarships and whatever else we can find to show our parents, teachers, students and friends how much success we really have! Well for my "dream student" Connor, success was simply learning to move his left hand, and then his right hand across the piano keys so he could get back to playing the piano and iPad at the same time.

"When you paint success pictures in your mind, you initiate an inner process whereby your attitudes, hopes, aspirations, and enthusiasm are elevated in response to an image of a more promising future. Every person who aspires must first sell themselves hope, the promise of a better life."  ~U.S. Andersen

P.S. What is your greatest inspiration or success story? Please share it below.

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3 thoughts on “Brain Injury Student – Plays Piano and iPad”

  • Kamara says:

    Hello Glory,

    Thank you for sharing Connor’s very inspiring success story! It is events such as these in your Student’s life altering journey that provide us as Music Educators the opportunity to evaluate what the definition of “success” really is. It is insightful that this Student’s success through the rehabilitative process was driven by his perseverance, unwavering passion for his love of music, belief in himself against the perceived set backs, and most of all the strong love and support from his Parents, Teachers (you being one of his steadfast advocates), family and friends.
    Many years ago, I took on the challenge of teaching a 10 year old boy who was diagnosed with ADHD. Not knowing much about this subject, I decided to do some research ahead of time prior to accepting him as a Student. Justin was directed to me by a friend, Carol (retired school Teacher) who was also tutoring him after school in Math lessons. I came to know Carol very well as she also did some home schooling for a period of time for my daughter, Martha-Ann (due to her illness and was not allowed to return to school until …). Carol believed that piano lessons could also help Justin to enhance his focus on the task at hand. Justin was also evaluated as having an above average IQ; therefore he could become quite disruptive at time due to “boredom”. Needless to say, in the two years that Justin pursued piano lessons with me it was indeed a challenge to keep Justin’s attention on his musical activities during his weekly 30 mins. lesson session. However, it required me to maintain a lot of patience and love for student, finding many creative ways to engage his corporation at the piano, and convincing Justin that he can produce beautiful music on the instrument. The greatest success for me was getting Justin (as well as his Parents) to agree to participate in my Student Recital and having Justin present the 2 pieces that he learned relatively well. Justin’s practice routine at home with his assigned piece (s) was very minimal in spite of his Mom’s supervision; therefore, his progress was quite slow based on this too! To both his Parents and my “amazement”, Justin performed his selections with focus throughout that moment in time. Most of all making a few slip during his performance, did not create anxiety for Justin where the possibility (as I was anticipating) he will leave the bench in mid performance in a fit of anger and tears for not presenting the “perfect” performance! On that day too, his Mother informed me, Justin was not given the medication Ritalin to keep him calm; Mom decided to discontinue with this prescription many weeks before. It was unfortunate that due to his parent’s separation and eventual divorce, that Justin – at age 12 – discontinued with piano lessons as he (by Justin’s choice) moved to another City with his Dad.
    Justin is also another testament to the “positive effects of music” on a child’s improvement in academic skills in the classroom. Carol related to me that when she got feedback from Justin’s Math Teacher in school, one of the questions that he asked her was what other activities (apart from the extra tutoring in Math) Justin was involved in. Her reply to that Teacher was that Justin was also taking piano lessons once a week. The Math Teacher’s remarked to Carol was that he was so pleased to hear that, and Justin’s Parents need to let him keep up with the piano; it appears that this is helping to improved on his focus; Justin was more attentive and less disruptive in class!
    Whenever I am asked about my piano students and the success I have had with them, I often refer to Justin and the opportunity taken and privilege given of teaching him for 2 years. To witness Justin sit long enough in a Student Recital to carry through with a performance without a “traumatic” incident related to his cognitive and emotional skills and needs was, and still is, one of my greatest achievements as a Music Educator!

    • Congratulations Kamara, in your great teaching of Justin. You truly made an impact on his life. Yes music this more powerful than we can ever imagine. The benefits of studying music are endless. The emotions it evokes in us, how it moves us through our day and the joy that it brings us. You are truly a gift as a Music Educator Kamara, your students are truly blessed to have you. Thank you for sharing Justin’s story, it really does create a new definition of success!

  • Kamara says:

    Thank you Glory for your kind response. As Music Educators we are truly blessed to be in a profession that is more than just a career; especially when we have some influence on a Student’s success however great or small it may be during the long term / short term relationship with that individual.

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