Over 35 years ago Dave Whalen was paralyzed in a skiing accident at age 19. Today, he’s a lawyer with a rock and roll dream: he wants to perform The Star Spangled Banner at a big league ball game. And we want your help making it happen.
Whalen can’t play guitar or piano because he lacks the mobility, and instruments like the saxophone or trumpet are off the table due to his diminished lung capacity. But, thanks to his indomitable spirit, love of technology, and a few great friends he’s able to rock out with the best of us on a badass instrument called the Jamboxx.
Last month Whalen played the national anthem at a minor league baseball game, and back in May he performed at an arena football game. Media coverage has been positive, if sparse.
The Jamboxx is a hardware MIDI controller, a machine that uses specific inputs to trigger sounds. Other MIDI interfaces include beat machines, certain keyboards, and other digital noise-makers. Most of these devices are designed for musicians with full mobility, making them difficult or prohibitive to many disabled people.
The people behind the Jamboxx set out to create a MIDI controller that anyone, regardless of talent level or physical ability, could use and enjoy. After years of research and development they came up with a breath-controlled device based on a traditional harmonica. Thanks to the magic of MIDI, the device can sound like any real (or imagined) instrument out there.
It’s played by breathing into a mouthpiece that can be slid back and forth through head movements. Various sounds are assigned to different positions making it possible to play individual notes or chords. It’s a robust device, but not a complicated one to play. It was designed to be accessible enough for someone with no prior musical training to pick up and have fun with immediately.
We spoke with Jamboxx co-founder and President Mike DiCesare, also a musician, who told us that he and Whalen created the instrument out of an age-old desire: they wanted to jam together. They started prototyping devices in Whalen’s basement until they landed on the Jamboxx.
DiCesare told TNW that the team spent all of their free time bringing the Jamboxx to life, but the reward was worth it:
It puts smiles on people’s faces the first time they use it, and that’s what we’re about… it’s been so rewarding, not from a financial standpoint, but from a personal one.
The instrument isn’t just a fun activity though, it has life saving potential. DiCesare tells us that due to Whalen’s condition he’s at constant risk for pneumonia, breathing exercises help to mitigate this problem. In fact, Jamboxx is currently working with healthcare professionals to develop the product as a respiratory therapy device.
The Jamboxx is an instrument that gives music to people who’ve never been able to enjoy making it, and gives it back to those who’ve lost it.
We believe that music is a crucial part of the human experience, and that’s why we’re turning to you, our readers, to help out.
Whalen, as mentioned earlier, wants to play the national anthem at an MLB game. We’ve emailed both the Yankees and Mets in New York where Whalen lives, and just for good measure we reached out to the Nets, Knicks, and Rangers too. Unfortunately, after a couple of weeks, we’ve received no responses.
Let’s get Dave Whalen to the big leagues. Share this on social media, and if you have a contact in the MLB who’s willing to get involved, have them email firstname.lastname@example.org. In the meantime you can learn more about Jamboxx at the company’s website.