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'Music can help': Marion students help bring 7-year-old's story to life in song

Rehearsal for Elliott's song
Posted at 7:53 AM, May 08, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-08 07:54:45-04

MARION — Students of all ages at Marion Community Schools are joining forces to help a special needs student’s story come to life through song.

It’s in partnership with the Sing Me a Story Foundation, which gives children in need the opportunity to write and illustrate stories and turn them into pieces of music.

“Music can help people in tough times when they’re feeling down or low. It can just lift up your spirits, whether you play it or just listen to it," senior John Wells said.

Elliott Winegardner is kindergartner at Frances Slocum Elementary School.


The 7-year-old has spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a genetic condition that affects the motor neurons, which are nerve cells in the spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement. Because the muscles cannot respond to signals from the nerves, they atrophy, or weaken and shrink, from inactivity.

“[We’re trying] to show our community that there’s people that are dealing with a lot more than what we will ever have to deal with," Marion High School Director of Bands, Joshua Huff said. “One of the things I’ve been preaching to our kids here at Marion is you’ve been given a talent, not all the time do you have to use that talent for major performance or for money. You do things sometimes to help people out.”

With the help of his older brother Kaden, Elliott wrote an adventurous story about pirates, dragons and buried treasure.

“It’s like a fairy-tale story," Kate Nguyen, who plays the flute, said. “This is a very special show. It’s about him. Special for him. We love to play for him.”

Jonathan New, a composition major at Indiana Wesleyan University, took on the commission from Sing Me a Story and created "Elliott's Song."

The song was then provided to Marion Community Schools music educators, who have been rehearsing it with their students all school year.

Roughly 300 band and choir students from four elementary schools, Justice Intermediate, McCulloch Junior High and Marion High School are involved in the project.

“Our students have never had the opportunity and I don’t think any of our teachers have had the opportunity to do some kind of massive collaboration like this," McCulloch Junior High School Choir Director Christina Huff said. “They’re not just performing for themselves, what you typically do when you get a performance ready. You’re performing specifically for a student in need and his family.”

“Elliott’s Song” will premiere on Saturday, May 11, as a part of the All-City Art Show weekend.

Rehearsal for Elliott's song

The performance is set for 11 a.m. on the main stage of the Walton Performing Arts Center.

It is free and open to the public, as is the Art Show, open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. both Friday, May 10, and Saturday, May 11.

A recording will be made of the performance and will later be a part of a donation drive to benefit Help the Hopeful, a local organization that provides support to families of medically challenged children in Grant County, including to the Winegardner family, who got to designate the beneficiary of the donations.