If you ask Apolinar Gonzalez, 18, about his extraordinary achievement of becoming the first blind percussionist in the Woodrow Wilson marching band, he will shrug his shoulders and say, “I just wanted to get more involved.” Both humble and confident, Gonzalez discusses his learning to march in formation, as well as his cymbal and drum abilities, matter-of-factly, without indication of anything exceptional.
But exceptional Apolinar Gonzalez certainly is.
Gonzalez has been blind all of his life. He only began playing the cymbals this August, but he’s been a drummer for two and half years. After playing in Woodrow Wilson’s jazz band last year, Gonzalez decided he wanted to try marching band at the encouragement of other visually-impaired friends. “I talked to some friends I met at camp,” he says, “and I thought I would try it. They march too.”
Gonzalez’s band director, Tim Huskey, encouraged the senior as he began marching with the band this fall. To Huskey, Gonzalez’s proposal was not entirely new, because, in an unlikely coincidence, the director has a friend who is blind and marches in a college band. While Gonzalez works hard to learn the band formations, both he and Huskey credit other band members with teaching him to march.
“Marching band is a very visual thing,” Huskey says, “You keep in alignment by adjusting to the people around you. Other band members help him a lot — I’ve been very impressed with them.”
Although Gonzalez marched with ROTC at
North Dallas , his previous high school, he says ROTC marching looks significantly different than band marching. “In the band, we march mostly forward and backward, sometimes side to side,” he explains. “My friends at Woodrow taught me by showing me how to place my feet.”
Huskey also arranged for band students on either side of Gonzalez to guide him by placing a hand on his shoulder. Because the percussionists use both hands to play, however, they recently incorporated a tether system to achieve the same goal.
“There are bungee cords attached to the people on both sides of me, and I clip them to my belt,” Gonzalez says. Huskey says Gonzalez is doing well with this system: “He learns what he needs to learn.”
Gonzalez figures out his musical parts by ear, says Huskey, either by listening to a tape or another student play the music. “It’s very impressive,” Huskey says, “He works really hard at what he does. He learns really fast — he’s a great kid.”
Gonzalez joined jazz band last year when Tom Lolley was Woodrow’s band director. Lolley finds Gonzalez similarly remarkable. “He is extremely adept and well-adapted,” Lolley says. “He did a marvelous job with the jazz band last year.”
Both band directors find Gonzalez to be a talented percussionist, regardless of his visual status. Lolley comments on Gonzalez’s confidence, and Huskey adds, “He’s a good drummer. We’re very lucky to have him in the band.”
While his teachers cannot say enough about this young man’s tenacity, Gonzalez replies with modesty. “He doesn’t seem to think he’s special,” says Lolley.
Indeed. When he hears that others find him inspirational, Gonzalez replies, “I guess when people see that I’m doing this, they think they can accomplish something too. But band is just entertaining for me.” He does not necessarily plan to march in college next year, and although he’s not sure which college he will attend, he wants to become a record producer. About his experiences with the band this year, he says simply, “I just do it for fun.”
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