At Swanville High School in Swanville, Minnesota, Ethan Och is doing the impossible.
With a degenerative condition known as Spinal Muscular Atrophy, Ethan’s mobility and motor skills are becoming increasingly limited. His arms are incapable of precise movements, yet he’s a highly skilled drummer for his high school’s band. He’s confined to a motor chair, but yet he marches and plays alongside his bandmates in parades.
How does he do this? He can play the drums without even touching a drumset.
Years ago, Ethan joined his his school band as a drummer. As his condition worsened, accommodations were continuously made to enable Ethan to keep playing, with him eventually drumming with ultra light aluminum drumsticks velcroed to his wrists. But soon even they weren’t enough. Disheartened, Ethan tried to quit the band, but his teacher had other plans in mind.
Swanville’s band teacher, Gina Christopherson, says “I don’t believe in ‘I can’t’.”
She scoured iTunes, downloading and testing over 75 different drumming apps, before finding the perfect one. Now, Ethan’s drumset is on a tablet connected to an amp, and he needs only his fingers to play. In parades, he rides alongside his comrades, his amp powered by a car battery.
Just when all seemed lost, Ethan, with the help of a wonderful teacher and supportive family, persevered through his hardships and succeeded. In the words of his mother, Stephanie Och, “You have those people that see barriers when they look at things, and those who see doors.”