Nation and World

Going 'Outside the Music Box'

Alumni couple bring cheer to children in hospitals across the nation

by Jan Gillis ('07)

The success of their program in Boston-area children's hospitals led the couple to take Outside the Music Box on a nationwide tour.

SUMMARY: James Orrigo ('13) and Kristin Moon ('15) are visiting pediatric facilities nationwide to provide chronically ill kids with a customized music and cartoon creation of their own as part of the interactive music project 'Outside the Music Box.'

From the Fall 2016 print issue of Madison.

James Orrigo (’13) clearly remembers the encouragement “to be the change you want to see in the world” offered during his freshman orientation at Madison. “I took that to heart,” he says. “When I came to JMU, I was in a difficult situation. My mother suffered from terminal cancer … and I was hesitant about attending school. I wanted to stay with my family and provide comfort … but my mom never wanted to hold me back.”

‘After seeing the power of music on [my mother’s] overall well-being, I knew that musical interactions could hit home with the chronically ill population in a special way.’

– James Orrigo (’13)

James would write songs with his mother to distract her from her pain. “After seeing the power of music on her overall well-being, I knew that musical interactions could hit home with the chronically ill population in a special way,” he says. James created Lad in a Battle; his concept used music and service to encourage others to make a positive impact.

Madison proved to be a positive impact on his own life. Most notably, he met his future wife, Kristin Moon (’15), on the JMU campus. “I was her FrOG [Freshman Orientation Guide]!” he explains.

James, who majored in criminal justice, is pursuing a career as a motivational speaker and program content coordinator. Kristin, a nursing major whose undergraduate honors thesis was on the effects of interactive music on the pediatric oncology population, is currently in a nurse residency program at Dartmouth Medical Center.

The Orrigos applied their talents and energy to creating Outside the Music Box, an interactive program to bring cheer to patients in Boston-area children’s hospitals. They help children, quite often those in cancer units, to write and animate their own songs. The end product is a cartooned music video. “[Bringing] those songs and imagination to life serves as a positive distraction that helps to normalize the hospital experience,” he says.

Both James and Kristin partaking in an interview
James and Kristin answer questions about their program during a TV interview.

“The distraction doesn’t just last for the 30 minutes James is with them,” says Kristin. There is a great deal of behind-the-scenes work to finish the videos within a couple of days of the creative session. “The kids are so excited with the anticipation of waiting, of what their video is going to be. It is really empowering for the kids,” she says.

After about a year of running the program successfully in Boston and witnessing the amazing impact it was having on families and patients, the couple decided to take it nationwide to reach as many children as possible.

This summer, their Outside the Music Box Hospital Tour crisscrossed the country visiting pediatric wards. Their respective talents allow the program to run smoothly. As James edits the audio and visual recordings of the patients, Kristin monitors the content put on YouTube to ensure patient privacy and compliance with HIPAA, the U.S. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

Their brainchild has met with positivity at every corner. Shortly before the couple headed out on their trip, Google contacted them expressing an interest in sponsoring their tour. “We are so honored to be on this journey and thankful that people see the worth in providing this service for the kids,” James says.

The program has also received enthusiastic responses from hospital staff and administrators, even garnering the support of Patch Adams, the trailblazing physician and founder of the Gesundheit! Institute. The Orrigos have been asked to help implement the program on a long-term basis at many of the hospitals they’ve visited. “Recently, we had the head of special visitors services for the Children’s Hospital of Illinois say this program is the most exciting pediatric program she’s seen in over 20 years,” James says.

Kids and their families have been equally enthusiastic. “Any recording of a sick child is precious and having the opportunity to record a child while they are laughing and smiling is a gift that keeps giving,” he says. “Patients love getting their own animated music video on YouTube, having something to show their friends, families, doctors and nurses.”

The couple hopes to continue working with organizations to expand the program.

“JMU provided a springboard that propelled my passion into action,” James says. “At JMU, there is an environment that encourages the student body to get involved, create meaningful interactions and be intentionally focused on making the world a little bit better.”

It would be hard to find a truer expression of those sentiments than the Orrigos and their Outside the Music Box program.

“Life is an incredible gift. Be sure to use it to help others."

– James Orrigo (’13)

Published: Sunday, September 25, 2016

Last Updated: Friday, May 18, 2018

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