One of our goals here at Orpheus has always been to use the power of music to help others and create positive change. I’m happy to announce that we will be launching an exciting new opportunity for our students to do just that, a "Practice-a-Thon" fundraiser to raise money for pediatric cancer research.
This is an incredibly important cause that’s very near and dear to our hearts, and is something that our own community has been directly affected by.
Since my wife Wendy and I founded Orpheus Academy over 18 years ago, I’ve seen literally thousands of students come through our doors, and every single one of them has been special to me in some way. Today though, I want to talk about just one student of mine, Theo, who has really meant a lot to me and changed my life in a big way.
Before Theo started his first lesson with me, his mom, Chloe, told me that while his cancer wasn't entirely in remission, he had a lot of success with his most recent treatment and was able to start doing some regular activities again. Theo started his first guitar lesson on the day of his fourth birthday. For Theo the biggest birthday present was getting to get his hands on a guitar. He just took right to it, loved to sing— it just was something that obviously brought him great joy and made a big difference in his life.
"For Theo the biggest birthday present was getting to get his hands on a guitar ... it just was something that obviously brought him great joy and made a big difference in his life."
Over the year and a half that I got to work with Theo, he showed incredible dedication to the guitar. He would come to the lessons sometimes with intense stomach aches or lack of focus because of medications he was on, but he always did his best. He really loved feeling strong, like one of his favorite poses was just putting his muscles up, and you could really see how playing music made him feel capable. Frequently people would be just blown away by how many songs he could play, and I think that really helped him to feel powerful and strong.
Of course Theo's cancer did make it hard for him to play guitar sometimes. Sometimes there just was too much pain, but he practiced whether he was at home, or in apartments in Houston, or even sometimes in the hospital he would still play his songs on step bells.
Like all of our students, Theo’s lessons went completely online starting in March of 2020. It was actually something that he took to a little better than a lot of students because he had already experienced having to kind of live his life in a bubble, but he also brought that ability to play his music for other people, and he even gave an incredible home concert for his friends and family that June.
One of the things I remember most about Theo's home concert, aside from the fact that he played incredible and he had a big smile on his face the whole way through, was the reaction. One of the people that attended that concert wrote in to say, "I thought I was going to see one hero today, Theo, but I actually saw three." He was referring to Theo's mom and I putting on the concert and giving Theo that chance to have his voice heard. And I think that that's truly something we're always striving for here at Orpheus, is to let kids' voices speak, and it was truly amazing how many people's lives he was able to touch with his guitar playing.
"You could really see how playing music made him feel capable. Frequently people would be just blown away by how many songs he could play, and I think that really helped him to feel powerful and strong."
Over the next year, Theo continued his guitar lessons. Theo learned all of the folk songs in our Books 1 & 2. He loved to play "Old MacDonald" and "Hot Cross Buns" and "Witch, Witch Fell in a Ditch." But his absolute favorites were the "Batman" and "Spider-Man" theme songs because he was a huge fan of all super heroes.
In his year and a half of guitar lessons, Theo's music brought joy to so many people. Learning music brought joy to Theo as well because it gave him something to work towards, something to focus on, something to put his energy into when he was stuck at home all day long.
I keep this picture of Theo over my desk, so I can look at it every day and remember that music can make a difference. It reminds me of the real reason that I wanted to teach guitar. It's not just about fingerings, or learning notes, or even learning beautiful pieces of music. It's about making a difference in another person's life.
I hope every music student can achieve the ability to share joy with the world, to make a difference with their world, and to connect with their world. But above all, I want them to know that they have a voice, they have value. We know every kid wants to be a hero, to make a difference, and to make beautiful music, just like Theo.
If you would like to join in this amazing cause, here’s how you can participate:
Please join us in sharing beautiful music and raising money to fight cancer. Thank you!
Every day, 43 children just like Theo will be diagnosed with cancer. In the last 20 years, only four cancer treatments have been specifically developed and approved for children with cancer. More research is desperately needed to find better treatments for kids like Theo — the funding of which is largely dependent upon philanthropy.