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Rolla Schools Look To Technology To Help Disabled Student Join Marching Band

Carther Chance playing the French horn. His cerebral palsy limits the use of his right arm, which isn't needed for this insturment. 03-03-20
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio
Carter Chance playing the French horn, which works well for him despite limited use of his right arm. Marching season, however, brings a new problem.

ROLLA — Carter Chance has never let cerebral palsy stop him from doing what he wants, but a unique set of circumstances is threatening his ability to join the Rolla High School Marching Band next year.

One of the effects of the disorder is he has little strength in his right arm and almost no use of his right hand. When he wanted to join the band last year, there was an easy solution to that problem: the French horn.

“You use your left hand on the valves of a French horn to be able to play it, and then your right hand just goes in the bell, and all it does is sit there, and that works perfect for Carter,” said Mike Goldschmidt, band director at Rolla Junior High.

But, while French horns, with their bells pointed backward, are great for concert band, in marching band, when the bells need to face forward, French horn players switch to mellophone. It looks like a big trumpet and is played with the right hand.

“In the back of my mind, I knew when we started Carter on French horn, we would have to figure out something for marching band. I figured we’d cross that bridge when we came to it,” Goldschmidt said.

With high school marching band looming this fall, Carter and his band director have come to that time. And staying off the marching field was never an option in Carter’s mind. 

“When I was little, when we went to football games, I always liked the marching band. I always wanted to do it, and it looked fun,” Carter said.

A mellophone in front of a picture of a 3-D printer schematic for a possible support system. Taken at Rolla RTI 02-28-20
Credit Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio
A mellophone in front of the schematic of a possible solution for Carter's dilemma, one that didn't work.

Goldschmidt did some research and found out that Northwest High School in St. Louis had a student with a similar problem, and they were able to solve it by building her a support with a 3D printer. Goldschmidt went to the Rolla Technical Institute for help. That’s where the school district teaches classes like automotive technology and drafting. It’s also where they have a 3D printer.

They got the specs for the support from Northwest High school and printed out a version in Rolla. But it didn’t work.

“His arm had much less strength than hers did. I don’t believe she had a fully developed hand, but she had all of the arm strength where he was lacking that strength,” said Meghan Bilbrough, a teacher at RTI. “His hand wouldn’t even fit in the prototype, so we scratched that; we started from scratch again.”

Bilbrough decided this was the perfect project for her star student, Riley Troup. The senior has strong interest in design and working with the 3D printer. So he started working on another approach. 

Troup looked to Hollywood for inspiration, and a vest that is worn to support a camera.

“Sometimes it’s used for movies so you can move around while not having to support the full weight of this big, bulky camera. Because that would allow him to move and do many of the motions they might do in band,” Troup said.

Troup is confident he will be able to come up with something by this summer, when the Rolla High School band starts daylong practices to get ready for football season and marching band competitions.

Troup said he likes working on real-life problems instead of class assignments, and he enjoys working with Carter.

“I think it will be really awesome seeing that he is finally able to do another thing that he has wanted to do for a long time, and him being able to do something he hasn’t been able to do before,” Troup said.

Right now, Carter is using a pole attached to the mellophone and connected to a special belt to support the instrument so he can play it left-handed. 

It’s a temporary fix. Goldschmidt said it won’t stand up to the rigors of hours of marching band rehearsals. But it is helping Carter get used to playing the mellophone and marching. 

Goldschmidt said Carter is a good kid, a hard worker, and he is confident Carter will march this fall. And when he does, there might be another Carter in the audience.

“We’re out there in front of a huge crowd of people, and maybe there is just one person in that audience that gets captivated by the music whatever you’re portraying at that time. Music is powerful,” Goldschmidt said.

The music could reach a kid that wants to be in the band even though something may seem to be in their way. But technology and a group of people who want to make it happen can take down those barriers. 

Carter Chance can’t wait.

“When I have a concert, I get chills up my spine, because it’s really fun playing,” he said.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @JonathanAhl

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Jonathan is the Rolla correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.