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What disability?

Limited use of arm doesn't stop the music

By Zach Castellini-Dow
On January 31, 2018

Despite having a disability, Erik Kindestin continues to follow his passion for music. Photo courtesy of Erik Kindestin. 

At Castleton University Spirit Band practice, the members go through their normal routine. They run down the list of songs they’re going to play at the next event and refer to most of the meeting as, “housekeeping.”

The trumpeters prepare themselves, all assuming the posture and focusing on their sheet music. As they play, their focus seems to be on keeping on beat, keeping their shoulders square and not missing a note.

Everyone but Erik, at least.

Erik Kindestin is a freshman biology major at Castleton, and when he plays, there’s a certain different flair.

Between notes, his fingers don’t rest on the buttons, but seem to flicker in anticipation for the next combination. As the notes come, Kindestin leans into the next ones as he plays them. He seems to feel every one differently.

Most of the other trumpeters add their own personal style during the rests. When they’re not playing, they’re clapping to the beat of the song to keep with the pace and engage the crowd.

Some of them rock back and forth while keeping their place on their music sheets. Some of them groove to the music adding little dances and singing. A few of them sing to one another and seem to laugh at how ridiculous they’re being.

These parts of the performance give Kindestin the most trouble, though.

Before he was born, he suffered a stroke during the second trimester. This led to permanent muscle weakness on his right side and epilepsy that is now controlled through medicine. Kindestin wears a  brace on his right leg, covered by long pants and cushioned on all sides by DC skater shoes.

The brace is the final solution after multiple surgeries when he was a child.

But the stroke also essentially left with the use of only his left hand.

Erik Kindestin rocks out with his trumpet at convocation. 

Kindestin’s excitement builds between the songs again. As they announce what song is next on the list, he lights up. While everyone is busy flipping music, Kindestin can be seen tapping his foot and singing.

Kyle Washburn, a recent graduate and leader of “the pit,” a section of the band where they play stationary instruments in the marching band, worked closely with Kindestin this past semester.

“I helped Erik with accommodating him by simplifying some of the music,” said Washburn. “It was really no problem; I have to simplify music for my students all the time, so writing the music for Erik to play with one hand was easy.”

What Washburn noticed about Kindestin was his work ethic, saying, “He didn’t let anything hold him back – even when the parts were tricky at first, he didn’t complain about it.”

Everyone who knows Kindestin says that’s one of the things that you notice about him – he never complains.

“He has never once said ‘I can’t do this,’” says Stephen Klepner, the band’s director. “He’s always the first to show up to practice and is always helping other students with their equipment after he’s finished loading and unloading.”

But Kindestin’s involvement goes deeper.

John Barone, a fellow member of the marching band, said his favorite memory of Kindestin during a performance was on a day, “it was so rainy we couldn’t play the halftime show – so we all went out to the field and had to dance.”

“I didn’t want to,” Barone said flatly, “but there I was and Erik was on the front of the line and seemed to be the first one to embrace the dance.”

“He has these silent leadership moments,” Klepner said with a look of pride.

“For a freshman to come in and be kind of the glue to that section is awesome,” Klepner said. “He elevates all of those people, the ones who he plays with.”

 

Nervous times

Erik is the only child of Scott and Kathy Kindestin, from Barre, Vermont. When they discovered Erik’s condition, they were both nervous and excited.

“It was an interesting talk with the doctor when we found out,” Kathy remembers. “We did a little research and so did our doctor and we buckled in for the ride.”

“We had these questions,” Scott recalled.

When Erik was young, he was losing his vision in one of his eyes. The first doctor that his parents took him to told them that surgery was typically for someone older.

“So many doctors gave up on trying to help him, so we’d go and get second opinions and we took him to another doctor who saved his vision.”

“There was a scariness, but there was this awesome discovery of who he was as a person,” Kathy said.

When Kindestin was developing his sense of self-awareness at about 8 years old, an important chapter was turned in his life: the advent of depression.

Because of disability, when he was in school he was part of the 504 Plan. The plan protects students from discrimination in school districts and promises that these students get the care that they need. But he didn’t feel normal because everywhere he went during school – he was shadowed.

“I always had someone there, watching me like a vulture,” he remembered, “As I got older, I valued independence more and the plan really didn’t help with interacting with others.”

“When I knew what loneliness really felt like, I hated it,” Erik said. “I was in the mindset that I was too different to be accepted.”

But the Kindestins have a sort of mantra they live by to help: “There’s two types of people in this world – the victims and the heroes.” Erik makes the distinction that, “victims blame their problems on someone else, while heroes stand up for what they believe in.”

This type of support is what drives him now.

“I think that because he works so hard, he doesn’t allow himself to complain,” Kathy said. “Maybe sometimes he doesn’t let himself connect with his peers the way he should because of it.”

“We tried to teach him to be adaptive,” Scott said.“One of the beauties of the trumpet is that it can be one-handed.”

 

Unique horn for a unique player

Erik’s trumpet is starkly different than the others in his section. All of the other trumpets seem to shine so brightly they could blind you. Meanwhile, Erik’s is a 1958 Olds that has all of the wear and tear, offering a hint of generations of music that’s been played by it. A closer look also reveals pieces that have been added in places so that it’s easier to play with a single hand.

Scott and Kathy Kindestin were originally nervous about their son’s transition to Castleton. Now that he’s settled-in, they couldn’t be happier with the way things are going. Castleton is where he feels comfortable, they said.

“I’ve always really appreciated my relationships with teachers,” Erik said, and that explains why his professors enjoy having him in class, too.

“He’s always the first one there,” said anthropology professor Paul Derby. “He sits right in the front row and is always paying attention. He’s one of the most engaged in his class.”

Not only is he engaged, but Derby says, “If he has any questions, he doesn’t hesitate to come to me after class.”

His success comes from the way Castleton makes him feel comfortable. Even though he hasn’t always been able to connect through his peers because of his disability, his relationships he’s building through the band are incredibly meaningful.

“Even though he has a disability, he does more to put himself out there than most college students do,” Barone said. “Without second-guessing, Erik does and it’s good to see him thrive.”

 

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