GiGi will be singing the National Anthem at the Chicago Cubs game on June 25th! Just take a moment to think about that! She will be giving hope to so many people who have watched their loved ones struggle to say just one word let alone sing the entire National Anthem!
So GiGi’s Playhouse will be representing big time at Wrigley Field next Tuesday night! We’ll be in skyboxes, in the 1914 Club, on the field, and all over The Friendly Confines to witness this special moment. There are bars hosting viewing parties where they’ll watch GiGi sing via Facebook Live. Our Playhouses across the country are doing the same thing! What an incredible gift and inspiration that GiGi will be giving to so many! But this didn’t happen overnight. Please read this short blog post to truly understand how incredible this feat is.
After the opening of our 46th GiGi’s location in Little Rock on Saturday and then flying home to host 2500 people at our GiGi’s 5k Fun Run on Sunday morning and then going straight to summer school and work all week, GiGi and I were ready for a little down time! Having that time got me really excited, and maybe a bit nervous, about GiGi singing the National Anthem at the Cubs game on June 25th! This is SO BIG! Standing in front of 40,000 people is
hard enough but in actuality, that is the easy part for her and I witnessed that so clearly last weekend.
As GiGi was excitedly telling a story on Fathers Day, I noticed her trying so desperately to articulate the words as fast as her brain was sending them to her mouth. At that moment I could not help but take pause and watch her in awe. Upon noticing she was stumbling on the words she stopped herself and went “ugh blahh” and laughed several times. In a sense making fun of herself and in another sense buying herself the time she needed to coordinate all her muscles to say all the words she so desperately wanted to say. I was so proud of her, and also a little sad that it was so hard for her, but as usual it was nothing she couldn’t overcome and she had us all laughing with her story that she eventually perfectly articulated!
That is why I wanted to take a quick minute to explain why GiGi singing the National Anthem at the Chicago Cubs game is so important to me and especially to GiGi. As a little girl, she always LOVED the national anthem. She quickly memorized the lyrics but it has taken her YEARS to be able to properly articulate the words. I mean she is still working on it to this day!
Many children with Down syndrome have difficulty with the strength, timing, and coordination of muscle movements for speech due to hypotonia (low muscle tone). It takes an average of 70 muscles to speak/sing just ONE word! Now imagine that in an entire song like our National Anthem! Talk about hard work!
Speech and singing involve coordinating breathing (respiration), voice (phonation), and the production of speech sounds (articulation). Therefore, GiGi has specifically had to work on increasing the efficiency of her respiratory system (taking enough breath on inhalation to support her speaking on her exhalation), monitoring herself and using her sensory feedback system to know when she needs an additional breath (so she doesn’t run out/feel out of breath).
She’s also worked on increasing her articulation with specific sounds, such as /f/ and /s/ and /z/. Due to low oral facial muscle tone, increasing her jaw stability through endurance and placement therapy has been provided for /s/ and /z/. As her jaw has increased stability, her tongue has achieved a more retracted posture as opposed to being in between her teeth/forward resting posture resulting in distorted sound quality. For the /f/ sound, she’s had to focus on her lip placement and the muscle in the lower chin to increase the placement to produce (which requires the bottom lip to remain in between the teeth) and pushing air through at the same time.
As you can see, she has to focus on MANY things (lip placement, tongue placement, jaw placement, efficiently using inhalation and singing ONLY on exhalation, when to pause and breath) for each individual word…. In a 2 minute song! That’s a lot to wrap one’s head around.
This is not just about a 16-year-old girl with Down syndrome singing the national anthem in front of 40,000 people. It is about GiGi, at 16 years old, overcoming overwhelming obstacles and reaching her goals! Her dream was to sing the national anthem at the Cubs game and now she is doing it with confidence, dignity, and grace. She will be an inspiration to all who see her and truly understand everything she had to overcome to make it to this day!
The next time you so easily make an “F” sound or an “S” sound (keep it clean people!) I want you to think about how naturally it comes to you and how much it takes for her to do that. I hope then that you too are in awe of her and all of her friends. They do amazing things and overcome insurmountable obstacles every day, that no one even know exist.
As I think you know we are working with Microsoft on how to best utilize Artificial Intelligence to help individuals with Down syndrome and speech is one of our areas of focus! Can you imagine how life changing that will be?? Maybe someday being able to articulate the National Anthem will not take years to achieve but just days or hours or minutes just like the rest of us! #changingtheworld
Thank you, Taylor, (GiGi’s Playhouse Hoffman Estates, Speech Therapist) for helping me explain all of this and helping GiGi be her #bestofall! Thank you, Kathleen Wilson, for being GiGi’s voice coach. She has worked with her for years to help her learn to maintain her pitch and her breath while using proper diction. This is no easy task but she did it!
We are so grateful that GiGi’s BFF Tom Ricketts and the Cubs recognize all that it takes for GiGi to actually sing and articulate the National Anthem for them. This is no easy feat but the Cubs do not shy away from a challenge! They trusted she would be ready and she is! Thank you for believing! I promise she will make you proud.
Thank you John Vincent, Cubs Anthem singer, for stopping by GiGi’s Playhouse to share your encouragement and tips with GiGi! #GenerationG