Ollie’s Orchestra, our Giving Tuesday partner, spreads hope and healing through music

Ollie Horn was 9 months old when, in April 2019, he was diagnosed with atypical teratoid rhabdoid tumor, an aggressive form of brain cancer. During his long inpatient treatment at Boston Children’s Hospital, his parents, Rachel Krieger and Max Horn, appealed for local musicians to visit with their instruments.

“Max and I saw the response it gave Ollie,” Krieger told WRTI. “On his worst days – you know, nausea and feeling awful – the music would come in and light up his eyes, and he was smiling and laughing. And then we had other kids around the oncology ward going around gathered and listened to the music that was brought to us.”

courtesy of Ollie’s Orchestra

Ollie Horn with his parents, Rachel Krieger and Max Horn, dropping off their first set of backpacks in 2021.

The experience sparked an idea, which Horn and Krieger quickly turned into reality. In 2021, after Ollie began treatment at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, they used a grant from the Make-A-Wish Foundation to fill 35 backpacks with real musical instruments – assorted hand percussion and ukuleles – to give to children in treatment. It was the start of Ollie’s Orchestra, a non-profit organization that has since distributed about 300 backpacks and guitars nationwide.

Pediatric cancer is the leading cause of death by disease in people under 15 years of age. The American Cancer Society estimates that about 10,470 children in this age range will be diagnosed in the United States this year.

Orchestra of Ollie Max and Ollie
Max Horn with his son Ollie, the namesake of Ollie’s Orchestra.

Ollie’s Orchestra harnesses the power of music to bring light, and even a touch of joy, to the childhood cancer journey, one patient at a time. “Once you feel your child’s pain and emotions, it really creates a shift in you,” says Horn. “And so we really connected deeply with that, and that changed who our community was. The network of parents who went through a similar feeling across the country is very, very strong. So we felt it was important for us to give back to this community, and to be good stewards for our community and giving back to our peers.”

WRTI is proud to partner with the Ollie’s Orchestra this Giving Tuesday: for every contribution to the station on November 29, WRTI will donate an instrument to support the organization’s backpack program. Contribute here or by calling 1-866-809-9784.

In addition to distributing instruments, Ollie’s Orchestra supports music therapy and music education – largely through the efforts of committed volunteers like Morgan Beck, who works with infants and toddlers as a special intervention instructor early. Beck has seen first hand the calming and uplifting effect music has on Ollie and works with other young patients who have special diagnoses.

“What I love the most is when kids are working towards a goal their family has set for them, it’s all measured in small steps toward progress,” Beck says. “So while they’re working hard and doing their homework and everything, I love when they finally achieve that little goal that we’re working towards, and I love celebrating with the kid and their family.”

Ollie's Orchestra Ukulele

Courtesy of Ollie’s Orchestra

Sarah Mosden is a music therapist who teaches guitar and ukulele lessons, among other music lessons, through Ollie’s Orchestra. “For kids going through cancer treatment, music is incredibly powerful,” she says. “Children are isolated, so it works on things like social skills and self-esteem in that setting. Helping with pain relief during treatment.”

Mosden adds, “Learning to play an instrument, for a child going through treatment, could be really therapeutic as it contributes to their sense of well-being.”

The music therapy and education provided by Ollie’s Orchestra, like its advocacy mission, is designed with a long-term perspective. “Because of the length of a childhood cancer diagnosis, Ollie’s Orchestra provides a lasting experience,” says Horn.

“Our core foundation is built around the idea that music is permanent,” he continues. “So the child plays, the child learns and is educated about music. And that creates something where they have the power to play and the power to create music at any time, and it’s not going to come out of the room. It’s not going to come and go. It’s something that’s there with them and at their fingertips. And so by empowering children with the power of music and the power of music-making, it gives them helps fill their time and carry on with this music as part of their whole journey through the childhood cancer journey.”

WRTI is proud to partner with the Ollie Orchestra this Donation Tuesday. For every contribution to the station on November 29, WRTI will donate an instrument to support the organization’s backpack program. Contribute here or by calling 1-866-809-9784.

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