Leading the Charge: Band Beyond the Scores

Why we do what we do

Aaron Hiscutt3.jpgIn the competitive marching arts, it is nearly impossible to remain completely unaffected by the thrill and frustration of the contest. Pride in your school and band program, in your friends and all your collective hard work, tells you that you deserve to beat other bands. At the end of the night, the drum majors line up on the field facing a row of faceless judges in the press box, and it feels like picking teams in gym class, but in reverse order. You cringe, hoping not to hear your name called too early. This isn’t Who’s Line; the points do matter.

But sometimes, amidst rivalry and scores, one student reminds us why we’re all really here, that it’s not just about carrying a two-story, gold-tinted trophy back to the buses. It’s not even about learning that hard work always pays off, because the truth is, it doesn’t always pay off in the ways we hope. But for all competing bands this year, the true meaning of the 2012 marching season can be summed up in the experience of a boy named Aaron Hiscutt.

By the book, CHARGE Syndrome is a genetic disorder that afflicts about one in every 9,000 to 10,000 children worldwide. While symptoms vary from child to child, children with CHARGE usually suffer from complex heart defects, difficulty breathing and swallowing, loss of hearing and vision, and balance problems which hinder their development and communication.

“It’s a pretty daunting diagnosis when you get it,” said Aaron’s mom, Susan Hiscutt. “Aaron does have hearing and vision impairment. He does have balance issues. He does have growth and development delays, but we’re 15 years into it now, and to know what the textbooks say is wrong and to really see your child living with it… it’s very different.”

In spite of severe impairments, “CHARGE kids” tend to be determined and resilient. Many accomplish more than is originally expected of them, and Aaron is absolutely leading the charge on that front.

“I think it was fourth grade when the kids started on recorders,” Susan said. Because of Aaron’s respiratory issues, he couldn’t breathe, blow and play, so his teacher said, “Well, shoot, let’s just let him play the chimes!” While the other fourth graders tooted and squawked on every parent’s least favorite instrument, Aaron played the same notes on the chimes.

“He mastered all of his songs,” Susan bragged. “And then the teacher had him play a solo for his fifth grade graduation.” The parents of the “normal” kids sat in awe, as a little blond boy, nearly blind and deaf, played “Amazing Grace” on the chimes in front of the crowd with no sign of nervousness.

“He couldn’t have cared less about all those people. He wasn’t focused on that,” Susan said.

After fifth grade graduation, Aaron’s parents found themselves in a middle school band room, speaking with the band director about the possibility of Aaron playing percussion.

“It’s hard for kids to experience the world without putting them in it,” Susan said.

The director happened to be a drummer, so he was open to letting Aaron participate in the band program.

“Some kids have soccer or basketball; Aaron has his music. He ended up playing the drums through sixth, seventh and eighth grade,” Susan said.

Aaron’s parents never really considered high school band, but a friend’s mom suggested it and took the initiative to start speaking with the Kenneth Carrico, the band director at Sullivan South High School in Kingsport, TN. “He actually seemed very open to it, so we went and did it!” Susan said.

Aaron Hiscutt just completed his freshman season as a member of the front ensemble of the Sullivan South High School Marching Band.

“We try not to limit him and tell him what he can and can’t do,” Susan said. “And with marching band, we tried to say that he could, but we didn’t know. I definitely think he exceeded our expectations.”

Jon Swengler, one of USBands’ Band Relations representatives, heard about Aaron when Kenneth Carrico called to ask if he would be allowed to compete in the USBands Tennessee State and Southern States Championships.

“Of course!” Jon exclaimed over the phone. “It’s not even a question.”

Jon was the event manager for Tennessee States, and he stopped running around long enough to stand on the sideline and watch Aaron perform with Sullivan South. When he reported back to the entire staff the following Monday morning, he recounted the story with tears in his eyes.

“Watching Aaron perform was one of the most inspirational moments to witness and be a part of. Observing him reminded me, and I think a lot of other people, why we do what we do here at USBands,” he said.

Susan’s family was blown away by the acceptance that the Rebel Band’s students, parents and instructors showed Aaron. “Aaron is nonverbal,” she said. “We’re not sure if that’s the result of his hearing impairment or more complex symptoms, but from what we can tell from his sign language, he really enjoys marching band.”

Aaron Hiscutt1.jpg

And while this season has been a great experience for Aaron and his parents, he teaches a much greater lesson to his peers and teachers every day: At the end of the season, this isn’t about which group of hardworking kids should have beaten another group of hardworking kids. It’s about the exhilaration of performance and the thrill of creating music as a team.

Aaron has been nominated for an award for the Council of Exceptional Children.

You can see a video of Aaron Hiscutt performing with the Sullivan South High School Rebel Band here.


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