The hearing-impaired drum major ends his musical journey on a high note

GURLEY, Ala. – High school graduation season is fast approaching. And for a Madison County senior, the year will end as the highest note in her musical journey. When the Madison County High School Tigers entered Friday night last fall, they were led by senior Leah St. Clair.

She ends a six-year career in the group. Leah started out playing the clarinet but moved on to another instrument, one that sounded more resonant. “I tried the bass clarinet and heard it a hundred times better,” she told me while sitting in the music room, “And it’s a beautiful instrument.”

Here’s why. “I was born deaf,” she says. And it wasn’t going to get better as she got older. “Basically, the hair follicles that surround her cochlea and are stimulated by sound pressure weren’t working for her,” Eric, Leah’s father, told me, “hers didn’t grow.”

At 18 months, Leah received a cochlear implant. She didn’t think about her hearing loss until she started a band. “That’s when I kind of noticed, okay, maybe I have like, maybe I notice a hearing problem where I can’t hear certain things” , she said.

Things like high notes. “The low sounds resonate through my implant, and I hear it a hundred times better,” she continued, “That’s why I hear the low brass a lot with their beautiful low sound and my bass clarinet being so low and I can hear that, it’s the music of my years.” She laughed.

Leah fell in love with walking and Friday nights under the lights. “She loved watching the drum major because she was on the field, she had to watch that drum major,” Kasi, Leah’s mother, told me, “That’s how she keeps her rhythm. “

And her parents love to watch her play. “Super, super proud,” her mother said, fighting back tears. Eric adds: “I’m just impressed with the things she does, her ability to read and understand music.”

Others are also impressed by his talent. “She did a great job,” Madison County band manager Bryan Massey told me, “She put a lot of pressure on herself, but she stepped up.” He continued, “She told me for years that I came here, her dream was to be a drum major. I was like, okay, well, work hard and we’ll audition everybody, and I’ll take that into consideration.

Lea went there. “Her passion and drive when she auditioned is what really won me over,” Bryan said before adding, “She was a great example of leadership for our program.”

Leah wasn’t going to let her hearing loss stop her dream. “Of course not,” she said, “I’ve never let my disability be an excuse or be something that bothers me.” She stood at attention. “Don’t let that define you. Don’t let that get in your way. Just push through,” she said.

She stepped forward. “I didn’t give up. I’m not giving up,” she said as she gasped and tears filled her eyes. As she wiped the tears from her face, she said: “Sometimes you have to go through hard times because sometimes people would let me down and especially there are times when it can be a little difficult not to hear things well. But again, I don’t don’t let that, I don’t let that stop me.”

His hard work paid off. “I said I could do it and then when my name was announced to be the drum major, so did I. I did it,” she says proudly. Yes she did She’s found her sweet spot. Leah and the band Tiger received top marks at the Hoover Marching Invitational last fall, and she was named “Best In Class Drum Major.”

Leah plans to go to Calhoun College in the fall and get involved in the theater program and maybe the jazz band. She hopes that by sharing her story, she can inspire other people with disabilities to aim for the stars and let nothing stop them from pursuing their dream.