EXCHANGE: French horn carries on memory of Sherman teenager
SHERMAN, Ill. -- Adam Clack had a lot of plans for the summer of 2018.
The 14-year-old Sherman teenager was on the cusp of graduating from Williamsville Junior High School and going on to high school. High school meant new teachers and new students to debate with (something he enjoyed immensely). It meant homecomings and proms and driving lessons that would lead to a driver's license.
It also meant a brand new French horn.
His parents, Gary and Terry Clack, promised that once he got to high school and joined the band, they would help him buy a double French horn. Adam was so excited for his new instrument that he planned on practicing for half an hour every day of the summer. He and his family were getting ready to search for the right instrument to lead him into high school.
Then the unthinkable happened.
Before Adam got to go through with any of his plans, he died in his sleep of cardiac arrhythmia on May 21 - four days before graduating junior high.
But even though he never got to play the French horn at Williamsville High School, a double horn with his name on it lives at the school. In a way, he still gets to be part of the band after all.
"I think it must have been part of a grand plan," said Jan Arnold, his French horn teacher. "The new horn is meant to be in his memory, not something he was going to play on this earth."
Gary said Adam had originally planned on playing the saxophone in the sixth grade, but Williamsville band director Kyle Muskopf encouraged him to try out all the instruments first before he made his decision.
"I think (Muskopf) was thinking he was probably going to have a band full of saxophones," Gary said. "So he had Adam ... look at all these different instruments."
He tried out the woodwinds and the brass instruments and even the drums. Gary recalled a cacophony of different sounds that night.
Eventually, Adam was drawn to the French horn, a circular brass instrument with a bell that points to the side and requires the musician to adjust the pitch with his or her hand inside of the bell.
Adam told everyone he was interested in the French horn because it reminded him of the small intestine.
Arnold laughed when he told her that.
"I thought that was beautiful," she said. "It was just the perfect answer. He had a very unique way of thinking and expressing himself."
Muskopf thinks Adam might have been drawn to the instrument for a different reason. Most everyone agrees that the French horn is one of the most difficult instruments to start with, especially at 10 years old. It takes a special kind of student to take it on.
"He was always looking for opportunities to be special," Muskopf said. "That's the common thread among most people who play French horn: They want to stand out, they want to be different."
Adam was definitely different. He took lessons with Arnold for 2 1/2 years, and he eventually became first chair among four other horn players at Williamsville Junior High.
Arnold said what helped him excel at playing the instrument was his passion for it.
"He had such heart for people and music," she said. "He loved it, and that carries you further than raw talent."
When Donna Scott found out Adam died, her heart broke.
Donna and her husband Jim lived in the same neighborhood as the Clacks. She said she often saw Gary and Terry with Adam and their other children, Nathan, 16, and Chelsea, 10, running around the neighborhood. They would ride their bikes, play basketball or go out to the park down the road in their neighborhood in Sherman.
"That is the way I picture an American family," she said.
Donna is the head of the bereavement committee in the neighborhood association. She wanted to do something for the family, but she also wanted to do something as a memorial to Adam. At first she suggested a tree, but Jim said it might die. Then she suggested a scholarship, and he said they might not be able to raise enough seed money to get an endowment going.
Then Jim came up with the idea of buying a French horn.
The idea was to give it to the school where a student who would honor and respect the instrument would play it for four years. Then, after that student graduated, Muskopf would select a new freshman to play the horn. In that way, Adam's memory would live on for years and years.
Without letting the Clacks know about it immediately, Donna and Jim got in touch with Muskopf and emailed their neighborhood association, asking for donations for the French horn. Several of the neighbors had already donated to the memorials set up in Adam's name to the vocal music boosters and the band boosters at Williamsville High School, but they also donated their money for the French horn.
Their other neighbor Tim Fliege was a musician, and he took on the search and pricing for the right instrument. Within two weeks, the neighborhood had raised $2,700 which was enough to buy a new double French horn from Boyd Music in Jacksonville - which the store sold at cost, meaning they chose not to profit from the sale of the horn.
When the Clacks found out what their neighbors were up to, they were stunned.
"We were just overwhelmed when they came up and talked with us about what they had done and presented the horn," Gary said. "It's a beautiful instrument."
They also had the three valve caps engraved. The first has Adam's name, the second has WHS for Williamsville High School, and the third has "Luke 8:15" which is the last verse of the parable of the wheat: "But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop."
The verse was Adam's confirmation quote. It's also the one that will be engraved on his tombstone.
Dylan Hembrough first met Adam in the fifth grade, and they quickly became best friends. They sat next to each other everywhere. They were on the same bus route. They were in literary club and cross country together. They both also played the French horn.
"Dylan and Adam, they were either talking on their phone, texting or talking at school," Terry said. "They were like brothers."
With their close relationship, it only made sense to Muskopf that Dylan would be the first student to play this new instrument engraved with his best friend's memory.
"It's the most meaningful to him because of his close relationship with Adam," Muskopf said. "To me it was the obvious choice to be the first person to play the horn."
When Dylan received the horn, he had no idea it was going to happen. He and his parents were invited to the Clacks' house at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 16. Figuring that it was another memorial for Adam, Dylan half expected his other friends to be there.
At the Clacks' home, Muskopf and the neighbors and the Clack family presented Dylan with the horn. He was so surprised at first, but he immediately took the instrument and played a scale for everyone there.
Now that the news has finally sunk in, Dylan said he feels honored to be the first one to get to play it.
?(I'm) very grateful - grateful that I was chosen and that I had the time that I did to spend with Adam," he said. "I feel really honored."
Adam's sudden death has meant adjusting for everyone in his life.
For Dylan, it means having to adjust to the fact that his best friend won't get to experience high school with him. He's visited Adam's gravesite a few times since the funeral, and the headstone will be installed near Dylan's birthday in a week. He's already made plans to visit Adam's grave on his birthday "because if he was still alive, he would have definitely been invited."
"I think about him a lot because I have a lot of time to," Dylan said. "He would have been in most if not all of my classes."
Muskopf hasn't had a lot of time to think about Adam's death, but there are moments every so often when the loss hits him. Like in the first hour on the first day of school. He looked over and realized that Adam wasn't sitting next to Dylan in band, like he had throughout junior high.
"But there will be moments when you just kind of feel something ... just little moments in the day when you're reminded something's missing," he said. "I don't think it's something I'm ever going to forget about in terms of losing such a great student."
For Gary and Terry, it means moving forward one day at a time with their children Nathan and Chelsea. As devout Christians, they've lost the near presence of Adam, but they will be reunited with him in heaven.
The response they've received from their community in the wake of Adam's death has helped.
"I hope you never experience this kind of response from the community for the reason we have, but it should make us all feel good to know just what people are made of," Gary said. "It's been very powerful for us."
Source: The (Springfield) State Journal-Register, https://bit.ly/2LQlhrV
Information from: The State Journal-Register, http://www.sj-r.com