Nicole Morgan was born to sing, and she has made her mark in the Champaign-Urbana music community as a performer and vocal instructor. She and others will bring their vocal talents to a benefit concert this weekend that will raise money and awareness for pediatric stroke and the organization that helps its survivors, Children Hemiplegia and Stroke Association. A native of Pontiac, Morgan moved to Champaign-Urbana in 2004 to pursue her dream and received a master’s degree in Vocal Performance and Literature from the University of Illinois. In 2006, she met her future husband, Jason, while they were both singing in HMS Pinafore, an operetta by Gilbert and Sullivan. They were married in 2009 and she immediately became a (step)mother to Jasper, now 15, and Julia, now 13. Maxwell came along in 2012. The Morgans live in Savoy.
Q: Please tell us about your son and what you have overcome together.
My son, Maxwell, is a pretty remarkable boy. From the day he was born doctors told us that he would never walk, run, talk, play … be a “typical” boy, but he is beating all the odds. Maxwell started walking, on his own, just two months after his 2nd birthday. He now runs and plays outside and loves it. He has about 50-75 words and can make two-word sentences. Communication is still a struggle but he is learning more and more every day.
The first year of his life was very scary with five hospital stays, including an emergency trip to the St. Louis Children’s Hospital. At one point Maxwell was on six different medications due to a form of seizures called Infantile Spasms. When your child has seizures, it is one of the most helpless feelings a mom can have. You watch your child have seizure after seizure and there is nothing you can do about it except wait to see if the medicine will help. Thank goodness Maxwell was one of the lucky children because he didn’t need to have brain surgery to stop the seizures. Eventually the medicine worked. Maxwell has now been seizure-free since November of 2013. He is still taking medicine for the seizures and may have to for the rest of his life.
Q: What inspired you to organize this week’s concert? Who should attend, and what can they expect?
The inspiration came from the fact that my husband, Jason, and I had no idea that children, babies, even unborn babies could have strokes. I thought only older people had strokes. This is not in any of the pregnancy/baby books I read. So as I researched this more I found an organization called CHASA (Children Hemiplegia and Stroke Association). This organization helps parents and children who are stroke survivors have support for each other. CHASA also funds research as to why strokes happen in young people.
Anyone can attend the concert – ages 0-99. The concert has music for kids and adults. Sometimes we recycle favorites from past concerts and there are always new songs. The concert will make you laugh, cry and think, not just think about the children who are stroke survivors but about any child who struggles, special needs or not.
Q: What do you want others to know about pediatric strokes?
That there are other stroke survivors out there. My husband and I felt so alone in the first year of Maxwell’s life. Not only were we dealing with a newborn, but a newborn who had had a stroke and was still having seizures. We didn’t know who to turn to for questions and concerns. Yes, we can ask the doctors but they only know what it is in the books, we wanted help from someone who had been through this. We wanted to know if what we were doing was OK and if Maxwell was developing like other stroke survivors. This is really how CHASA helped us.
Q: What role does music play in your son’s life?
Music plays a huge role in the whole family’s life. My husband and I both have a master’s of music in vocal performance from the U of I. The first time I felt Maxwell move in my womb I was playing the piano for my students at Millikin University. Maxwell has been around music his whole life and even before he was born. He loves to dance and sing. Music has also been an effective way to teach Maxwell to communicate. Jason and I would sing to him all the time especially when he was upset. When Maxwell was having seizures, I would sing many different songs to him but one of his favorites is still “Feed the Birds” from Mary Poppins. It would calm him down in minutes. It is only fitting that Kari Croop and I will be singing this song together on the concert.
Q: What “insider” tips do you have for Champaign-Urbana area parents who have children with special needs?
In all honesty, Facebook has been a huge help for me. This is how I found CHASA, but there are other helpful resources out there like CU Able, LP Parents at the YMCA, etc. The YMCA has really been a great help to us. Maxwell sees Stacie Young for occupational therapy and he has been seeing her since he was 6 months old.
Larkin’s Place has so many different activities for special needs kids but the Y itself has great things for Maxwell as well. We have done swim lessons, music therapy, and Rugbugs just to name a few. I really try to integrate Maxwell with “typical” kids because he learns so much from them.
Q: What do you enjoy about working with children as a vocal instructor?
I have worked with children from kindergarten to college and every child is different. I work with children one on one as a private vocal instructor out of my home and I also have worked with the Champaign Park District, Champaign Urbana Theatre Company and Holy Cross as a music director/stage director. As a private voice instructor, it is really great when you’re teaching a student, they have been struggling and then they sing that thing correctly for the first time. They look at you and say “I get it, that felt so good” and they are so proud of themselves.
Teaching a vocal technique takes time and it is different for every student. As a music/stage director, the moment the kids are in costume and they take the stage with a live audience and you see the pure joy on their faces — that is a great feeling. All of the hard work they have done for weeks pays off in that one moment.
Q: Tell us something most people don’t know about you.
I really hate wearing socks. I am barefoot or at least sockless all year round even in 20-degree weather. I’ll wear a sweatshirt and sweatpants and still be barefoot. The only time I wear socks is when I have to wear tennis shoes or a nice pair of shoes. If I could wear flip flops in the snow, I would.
Q: What’s your favorite thing to do in C-U with your family (out and about, not at home)?
Like many moms, I am a mom who likes a bargain. I like going to garage sales and second hand stores. My stepdaughter is also very good at finding good deals as well! We like going to the Farmer’s Market on Saturdays, going to parks for Maxwell to run around, going for long stroller walks, and especially now with summer upon us we enjoy going to all the different festivals in the area.
Nicole Morgan was nominated to be a Chambana mom to know. Nominate a mom or dad today — it’s easy!