Whether it’s on the field or in a parade, you can hear Will Johnston’s trumpet.
Johnston, who has played trumpet since fifth grade, now plays trumpet for both the Fairmont State University marching band and jazz band. On the field, he is assisted by Nicole Davis, a volunteer who does not receive class credit for her actions.
Born with osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as brittle bone syndrome, Johnston uses a wheelchair.
But this hasn’t caused him to not dream big.
Having participated in marching band at University High School, Johnston knew he wanted to continue to perform. He wanted to pursue a ninth year of trumpet playing due to his love of music.
“I love music and playing trumpet,” Johnston said. “I couldn’t see myself giving that up. I’ve had too many great experiences playing trumpet with other musicians. I didn’t want to stop that just because I came to college.”
Before coming to FSU, Johnston spoke with the previous band director. An arrangement for Johnston to be on the field for the marching band was made. Davis stepped forward and helped Johnston get around during practices and performances.
Robert Hickey is in the midst of his first year as director of bands at FSU. His first official day of work was the first day of classes, though he did visit the marching band the Friday before classes.
“Right away, I noticed (Johnston) out on the field,” Hickey said. “I didn’t quite know his playing abilities, but I thought it was great to see him out on the field and interacting with the students. He was not allowing the wheelchair to limit his ability to participate, which I think is wonderful.”
During the first week of classes, Hickey noticed Johnston’s playing ability as it was the beginning of rehearsal. The last note in a song was a D, which Hickey knew.
“We got to the end of the song (and) I heard this (note) pop out,” Hickey said. “It had nice tone and it was strong. I looked down, and Will is standing right in front of me.”
Hickey said it was a “holy cow” moment.
“You don’t expect to hear that kind of sound come out of a trumpet out of somebody that small,” Hickey said. “He plays well, has a great attitude and it was just very refreshing to know that he was willing to put in the time and dedication to the best that he could do for himself and the band.”
Johnston also participated in jazz band this year.
“I like the fact that (jazz) is open to interpretation,” Johnston said. “There isn’t a strict guideline for how the music works. There’s freedom in the performer to play what he wants within a set of guidelines.”
Johnston enjoys the performances.
“It was the first time I had improvised solos to play, and it was a lot of fun, too,” Johnston said. “Playing improvised solos and lead trumpet was a new challenge and new experience. I really enjoyed it.”
Johnston just finished the first semester of his freshman year. He is also an Eagle Scout. He is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in chemistry followed by a stint in medical school to become an anesthesiologist.
“It’s a challenging field that doesn’t require a lot of physical strength,” Johnston said. “It’s more mentally demanding, and I’ve always been drawn to it.”
Johnston said he plans to participate in jazz and marching bands next year as well.
This story by Richard Babich was originally published in the Times West Virginian on Dec. 11, 2015, and is posted here with permission. Contact Babich at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @rbabichTWV. Visit http://www.timeswv.com/.