Musician plays upbeat tune from wheelchair
RODNEY CALVER, For The Capital
When the South River High School band marches off to lead a Veterans Day parade on Thursday, junior Steven Graff will be in his usual spot with the rest of the wind players.

He'll be difficult to miss. The alto clarinetist is the only one in a wheelchair.

But that minor inconvenience has not stopped the 17-year-old from playing as full a role as possible with the Edgewater school's marching band.

"Music is a very important part of his life," said third-year band director Diane Gerrior Manning. "And although he tries his best to carry out all the moves the band makes, it sometimes does not work out. Once, all the musicians were going one way, and he was going the other. But he's a unique student."

Steven's musical acumen doesn't begin and end with band. He's in the string section of the school orchestra and plays a mean tenor sax with the jazz ensemble.

To Steven, music is more than notes on a page or sounds for the ears.

"It is one of the most important parts of my life," he said. "It has also made me more sociable and better able to explain myself. No matter how many times you are able to squeeze a ball, it's not the same as playing an instrumental piece. To me it is more emotional and practical."

His fingers are also pretty nifty when it comes to books. Academically, he's in the top three of his class and has his sights set on an Ivy League school where he can pursue his studies in engineering and, of course, music.

Steven, who lives in Davidsonville, suffers from congenital muscular dystrophy. His mother, Deborah, says he was 5 before he spoke.

"We taught him to speak through songs," she said. "And although he is blessed with perfect pitch, for many years he did not have the strength to hold a musical instrument."

He was 6 when his parents introduced him to music and bought him a keyboard and a copy of the "Miracle Piano Teaching System" software. He played violin in the third grade and, two years later, picked up the clarinet for the first time.

He taught himself to play the viola in sixth grade. During his freshman year at South River, he became interested in the jazz band, so he added the tenor sax to his instrumental repertoire.