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One-handed saxophone gives new hope

Daniel Stover, an accomplished musician, thought he lost his ability to play music after he suffered a stroke in 2008.

But his dream to play the saxophone again came true Tuesday when instrument technician Jeff Stelling handed Stover of Houston a new one-handed saxophone.

“It’s overwhelming to know that he has not a magic bullet now to cure his problem, but he’s presented with an opportunity to work hard and be able to regain his musical life,” Stelling said.

Stelling converted Stover’s Selmer Mark VII alto sax to a toggle-key saxophone. Stelling presented the instrument to Stover during a press conference at his business, Stelling Brass and Winds Tuesday.

“It gives me a second chance to go back to making music again and teaching,” Stover said.

Stover began playing the clarinet in sixth-grade band. In junior high and high school, his love for music grew, and he earned a spot in the All-State Band his junior year.

He eventually learned to play the saxophone and the flute.

Stover began to pursue his dreams of being a woodwind doubler, someone who plays multiple instruments in pit orchestras for musicals.

He graduated from Sam Houston State University with a degree in clarinet performance in 2004.

Stover then taught private clarinet and saxophone lessons in several north Houston school districts, performed in pit orchestras for musicals and was in demand as a clarinetist for chamber music concerts.

In July 2008, just days before his 28th birthday, Stover experienced a severe hemorrhagic stroke that left him with hemiplegia — paralysis affecting only one side of the body — on his left side. He lost the ability to play any of his instruments.

In October 2009, Stover returned to teaching part time after winning a battle with lymphoma.

“It was pretty devastating,” Stover said. “I didn’t think I’d be able to carry on with my life. I went through a period of pretty heavy depression until I found out about the toggle sax. As soon as I sent my horn to Jeff to be converted, my depression just went away and I felt like I had some hope,” Stover said.

Stover said he never imagined he would be able to play music again. He even sold some of his old music equipment.

“I’ll have to go back and buy some new pieces,” he said.

Stover will have to learn the finger positions on his new saxophone and relearn how to breathe while playing, he said.

During the nearly two years Stelling spent building the instrument, Stover said he studied the finger positions on the saxophone.

Stover learned of the instrument through the One-Handed Woodwind Program at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.

In 2000, David Nabb, an accomplished saxophone player, suffered a stroke that left him unable to use his left hand. Stelling, working with Nabb, developed a toggle-key design, which makes it possible to play the saxophone with one hand.

“Music has an extraordinary power to reach people through observing performances and through participating in performing. That is equally true for able- bodied people and people with disabilities. We have the same desire and needs to be active in music as able-bodied people,” Nabb said.

“Jeff Stelling’s toggle-key saxophone is changing the way people all over the world view disability and music.”

The first Very Special Arts Award for Achievement in Instrument Adaptation was presented to David Nabb, a University of Nebraska at Kearney professor of music, and instrument technician Jeff Stelling May 5, 2011 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

“I think God has opened up some doors for me to allow people to do music,” Stelling said.      

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