SWANVILLE, Minn. – As his body weakened from a muscle disease, Ethan Och knew the time had come.
He told his music teacher he'd have to give up his favorite school activity.
"I was lagging behind," says Ethan. "And they were going ahead and there was no way for me to catch up with them."
His teacher, Gina Christopherson, remembers the day Ethan broke the news. "He said I really hate to do this, but I have to quit
If Ethan expected to ride his wheelchair into the band sunset, he picked the wrong director.
"I don't believe in 'I can't,
Today Ethan is back in the percussion section, drumming on an iPad hooked to an amplifier.
Mrs. Christopherson got the idea from Ethan himself, the day she saw him playing with a drum app on his smartphone.
"My first day digging through iTunes I downloaded 75 different apps," Mrs. Christopherson says.
Several of those apps are now loaded on an iPad from the school's special education department, giving Ethan an assortment of drums, cymbals and a keyboard, he plays with his fingers.
"Exactly the same as his classmates," says Mrs. Christopherson, "just a different mode."
Not all band directors felt that way. Mrs. Christopherson says it took some convincing before the Minnesota State High School League agreed that Ethan's amplified music would be allowed in band competitions.
But that was only one of the hurdles. When marching band season came Ethan cleared another, thanks to a baby stroller and a car battery that kept his amplifier powered as he rolled along with the Swanville High School band.
"I could not understand how that would work," says Ethan.
That includes Ethan's upcoming bus trip to New York City with the rest of the band. To be sure, Ethan's need for 24 hour nursing care presented an obstacle, but Mrs. Christopherson wasn't going let that stand in the way either.
An online fundraiser to help cover travel expenses for two nurses raised the needed $1200 in less than a day.
"He's part of the team, you don't leave somebody behind," Mrs. Christopherson says.
Ethan's parents know few band directors would go to such lengths.
"You have those people that see barriers when they look at things, and those who see doors," says Stephanie Och, Ethan's mom.
Mrs. Christopherson sees the entire Swanville community benefiting from Ethan's iPad drumming. "It's his success and we get to celebrate it too," she says.