Editor’s Note: As Cleveland deals with the outbreak of the new coronavirus, or COVID-19, everyday life is being disrupted. In our “How It Feels” series, we’re talking to students, teachers, nurses and those on the frontline of the pandemic to see what it feels like to live life in isolation and transition to new ways of working, thinking and living.Graeme Ogilvy is a wide-eyed 8-year-old whose curiosity knows no bounds. He’s incredibly inquisitive, picking apart a variety of topics such as how to build cars, the perks of square-foot gardening and learning how to build treehouses and forts. Watching him learn is like seeing someone peel back the layers of an onion to get at the center of how things work. “He’s very mathematical and orderly,” says his father Dan Ogilvy. “He loves those kinds of things where he can explore the outside world, learn and try new things.”
Born with a sensory processing difference, Graeme can sometimes be sensitive to light, sounds and different textures. His father and mother, Emily, have had him enrolled in music therapy lessons at the Beck Center for the Arts since he was 5 to help him learn how to process his emotions and figure out how to express himself. Although the pandemic has slowed things down for the family of five, having access to virtual music therapy has been a blessing for Graeme, who meets with his therapist Michael Simile every Saturday morning.
“Once things were shut down, that was a bit of a shock to all of us,” says Dan. “Graeme loves his friends at school, and he’s so social. Wanting to be around his buddies and in his Montessori classroom, [where] he’s able to explore things. The materials are such an important part of the classroom and all of that was kind of taken away from him.”
Graeme’s father explains how music therapy has helped Graeme during this difficult time.
We had one or two weeks off of music therapy, which was a little bit of an adjustment, but as soon as Michael told us we could do this over Zoom, we went for it. Graeme loves having a predictability and pattern to it. We’re all creatures of habit, and when some of these things were taken from him, he was trying to figure it all out. But then his classroom at school got up and running with Zoom, and he was able to connect with his teachers that way. Now he has his Saturday sessions with Michael, it’s been a great thing.
Michael will send us different pieces or different music and finger placements and sheet music. Michael will be sitting at his piano, Graeme will be sitting at his keyboard and they’ll both be looking at the same music. They talk through it line by line. Michael will ask him, “Why do you think it’s this way? What do you think will happen? Can you create your own pattern or melody like this?” Michael has done such a nice job at making it as familiar as he can to what it was like in person, just as if he was sitting next to him at the Beck Center.
He’s actually practicing his music more now that he’s home through all of this than he ever did before. He’s at that age now where I think some lightbulbs are going on like, “I have some time now, and I can do this.” He and Michael mapped out a schedule during one of his sessions, and he’s been really good about it. He’ll do his practice in the evening and use that as a calm down before bed.
He really looks forward to it, and now with exploring more of the music he’s interested in, he’s seeking it out more and sharing more, too. Being at home and having access to his instruments all day has been helpful. He’s exploring it more to be creative and expressive, which is great to see because I’d much rather him bring them out with his emotions as opposed to holding everything in. He can explore on his own terms.
These are lifelong hobbies. He could play the guitar for as long as he wants to, and [our daughter] Annie can do dance as long as she wants. They could use these things for the duration of their lives. It could be a lifelong love that we’re instilling in them now, and they can share that with others or keep it in. I think it’s so important with the world today to have different outlets to express how they feel, whether it’s through art, dance or music. It helps our kids find a balance and an avenue to go after the things they’re passionate about.
We’ve had these conversations with Graeme where Emily and I, as mom and dad, are trying to navigate the world with a lot of uncertainty. It’s not just you as a child who feels this way. We as adults feel this way. We learned how important it is to have other adults around our kids who care about our kids and want them to express their emotions and explore what they might be passionate about. The Beck Center teachers are wonderful, welcoming and inclusive. Having music therapy or art therapy and people like Michael as part of our team to model how we can use the different ways to express ourselves is a great way to bring us closer together as a family. It shows the importance of sharing how we feel. For Graeme, it gives him a sense of consistency.
Regardless of what’s going on in the outside world, he has his time with Michael, and he can explore his music and other things he’s interested in. It gives them some hope, and it gives them a positive outlook. Things will be better, and it’s something to be make them feel good and something to look forward to.