Let the Music Play: One Young Man’s Incredible Gift
By: Sherri Gragg
Colton Hill was born blind, but he was also born with an amazing gift for music. When Hurricane Harvey destroyed his family’s home, he was sure he would never touch his piano again. Disaster Ministries was determined Colton’s music would play on.
Colton Hill is many things. He is gifted intellectually, a technological wizard, and a musical prodigy. He is a good friend, a beloved brother, and a cherished son. He is all these things and more.
And oh yes, he just so happens to have been blind since birth.
“Colton has Leber Congenital Amaurosis, or LCA,” his mother, Brandy, said. “It is a rare genetic disorder that only affects about 30,000 people in the United States. There was a whole process to work through with that. We were young, newly married, had a new baby. And then, we learned Colton was blind.”
The Baby and Beethoven
But there was so much more to Colton that his parents could have ever imagined. When he was six months old, his mother realized he was using his toys to beat out the rhythm of the songs playing on the car stereo on the edge of his car seat. When he was three-years-old, she realized he was drumming out a rhythm on the open door of the dishwasher to whatever was playing on the radio. It was around that time that Brandy brought home a garage sale keyboard for her son. When she placed his fingers on the keys, he began immediately playing his childish, and yet recognizable, renditions of the classical music his mother had played for him from the time he was in the womb.
“We were flabbergasted,” Brandy said.
A Piano for Colton
With each passing day, Colton’s piano skills improved. By the time he was 5-years-old, the world was beginning to take notice. Colton’s story was in the newspaper, and he appeared on the local news. Brandy’s grandmother felt it was time he graduated from his keyboard to a piano all his own and asked her granddaughter to try to find one. After an extensive search, Brandy located a refurbished Yamaha upright. Even though it was the best deal she could find, the $3,500.00 price tag was just too much. Her grandfather had passed away only a few months previously. She called her grandmother and told her she just couldn’t imagine asking her to undertake the expense.
“I just received an insurance check,” her grandmother said, “and it is for $3,550.00. This is from your Granddaddy and me. We are buying that piano.”
With each passing year, Colton played his beloved piano, a gift of love.
“We lost everything,” Brandy said through tears, “We are still traumatized. We had six feet of water on our property, three feet inside the house.”
The piano had been flooded.
The Hill family didn’t know how they would repair floors, dry wall, or replace every piece of furniture they owned. The restoration of a piano on top of it all seemed utterly impossible. As Brandy watched the piano repairman drive away with her grandmother’s precious gift in the back of his truck, she had no idea how she would ever find the money to get it back.
Angels Among Us
Colton’s piano teacher, Sharon Mooney, wife of First UMC Vidor pastor, the Rev John Mooney told the family about TAC Disaster Ministries and instructed them to sign up at texasrecovers.org. Once the Texas Conference was aware of the family’s need, the United Methodists came to the rescue. The Rev. Sharon Sabom, pastor of Deweyville UMC and Disaster Ministries case manager for the area, began helping them along the road to recovery. “I have cried on her shoulder about 1,000 times,” Brandy said. “We must have talked about a million different things. The piano was one of them.”
While the Hill family began managing the recovery of their home with the help of Disaster Ministries, Sabom undertook another, top-secret mission.
A Concert and a Surprise
Brandy was so thankful for the mercy she had received from the Texas Conference, particularly the people of Deweyville UMC, that she wanted to find a way for the family to say “thank you.” It seemed logical that the best way to do that would be to have Colton play for the church one Sunday. When the time came, she walked her son onto the stage and placed his fingers on the keys. The church members listened in awe as the 17-year-old boy filled the sanctuary with music.
When his concert was finished, and he took his seat beside his mother once again, Sabom called Colton to the front of the church and revealed her surprise- Disaster Ministries had paid the cost of his piano restoration in full.
“I never thought I would get to touch my piano again,” Colton said through tears.
And this is recovery. It is more than repairing flooring and drywall. It goes far beyond mucking and gutting. “It is about getting your life restored,” said Project Coordinator Linda Buser.