Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Leroy's Jam

Leroy has two big passions in his life - music and movement. 

Leroy has loved music for as long as I have known him. When I first met him, he would look up at me with wide eyes as I would sing to him. If he was crying, he would stop as soon as I started to sing. 
The house mothers would often have the radio on in the kitchen at the orphanage, so I guess it was the soundtrack to his day. 

When he started to come to Cape Town with me for the weekend, he loved the radio in the car. In my little studio flat he would wait expectantly for me to plug my iPod in to the speakers, smiling when the music started. He quickly learnt the introduction to his particular favourites, chuckling at about the third note. 

About 14 months after I met him, just before his second birthday, I took him with some friends to a concert at Kirstenbosch Botannical Gardens. The Soweto Sting Quartet were playing. From the moment they started playing, you could see that Leroy was gripped by the music, listening intently. I bought one of the CDs they were selling, and the next morning, over breakfast, I slipped it into my laptop. As the first tune started, Leroy started laughing. He clearly recognised the music from the night before; there was no doubt in my mind. 

My friends Trevor and Ruth acquired a piano around about the same time. Leroy was intrigued when Trevor started playing it, when we were round at their house one day. Trevor started playing scales, with Leroy looking on. Whether through lack of practice, or on purpose, I'm still not sure, but Trevor played some wrong notes within the scale. Each wrong note drew a chuckle from Leroy. Although he'd never been up close to a piano before nor learnt scales (what two year old has learnt scales?  Let alone, one severely physically disabled with cerebral palsy, who lives in an orphanage in a poor township!)

Quickly, I learnt that Leroy was a boy who needed music. He tuned in to music at restaurants, clearly recognising familiar songs, prompting me if the music stopped. The minute we got in the car, he asked for music (he still does), the minute we got "home" (wherever home was) he asked for music (he still does). 

Once we were properly home, I had the opportunity to take him to more concerts; his whole body quivering with excitement as he heard the orchestra tuning up. 

For his 8th birthday, his dreams came true when I gave him a keyboard.  He was ecstatic and it rapidly became his activity of choice when at home. 

I was keen to find a piano teacher for him, but struggled to find anyone. However, around the time of his ninth birthday, our social worker asked if she could contact the Connect Music project, which was running at The Sage, Gateshead. She thought they might have a piano teacher who would be happy to teach Leroy, and she wondered if Leroy would benefit from Music Therapy. 

In January 2013, Leroy began one to one piano lessons with Laura, and Music Therapy with Louisa. These two sessions, both at The Sage, more or less immediately, became the highlight of Leroy's week. He started tentatively, but gradually grew in confidence, and I still remember feeling astonished when Louisa reported that Leroy had begun singing in their sessions. Leroy would leave these sessions on a high, clearly feeling a more confident boy as a result of his music making. Laura reported that although Leroy was her most physically disabled student, he was definitely the most determined to get the notes right. 

Over the last twenty months Leroy's confidence in his Sage sessions has grown and spilled over into life in general, and now he wants to use his passion for music to help his passion for movement...

Leroy loves moving - in the car, a train, a lift- if it moves he loves it and doesn't want it to stop! He particularly loves moving when it involves water - sailing with his beloved Granddad and swimming. To Leroy, swimming represents the ultimate freedom - it is the only time he is able to move himself in space without anyone else helping him to move. 

However, there is another way he could move - if he had a powerchair that he could drive. That is Leroy's biggest dream: to be able move himself on land; to go where he wants to go, under his own control. 

And so Leroy and his friends are fundraising towards a custom built powerchair (a Dragon) that will be honed so that Leroy can manage to drive it, even with his limited hand and arm movement, and that will be able to go down low, so he can be on his little sister's level, or up high, so he can be on the same eye-level as his non-disabled peers. It's not cheap, but it will provide Leroy with a level of independence he's never experienced before. 


On Wednesday 3rd December, Leroy, supported by his Music Therapist and his piano teacher, will be jamming at The Sage, Gateshead, to raise money towards his powerchair. 
Please support him, if you can!

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