If you saw Elijah “Eli” Golden out on the football field marching with the McKinley High School Marching Band, you wouldn’t know he is hearing impaired. The sophomore drummer is keeping the beat by feeling the sound vibrations all around him.
“If he can’t hear the music going on, that’s fine because he can feel it. He feels it through the ground, through the walls. He just feels it,” said his mother, Marissa Golden.
Eli is living out his dream in the band.
He had a rough start in life as a preemie not expected to survive. But he found his way off the ventilator and feeding tube and by 18 months landed in the foster home of parents who would go on to adopt him.
“I was born to be his mom, I guess,” said Marissa. “And Akron Children’s has been with us every step of the way through feeding tubes, ear tubes, multiple surgeries, helping with his hearing loss.”
Eli is completely deaf in his left ear and has about 50 percent of his hearing in his right ear. He identifies as deaf and uses sign language.
His love of drumming seems to have started almost from birth.
When Eli was a baby, his hands tended to curl up tight, so Marissa would place pencils in his palms to keep him from crunching down on his fingers. He soon started tapping with the pencils.
“He would be in his bouncy seat, tapping on the sides to Baby Einstein,” she said. “Drums have been his thing ever since.”
A plastic toy drum set came around age 3 and his first official drum set arrived on his 5th birthday.
His parents and grandparents introduced Eli to classic rock and roll. His favorite drummer is the late Neil Peart of Rush. For Halloween, he dressed as Gene Simmons of Kiss, and just this past summer, Eli made it to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
“His mecca,” said Marissa.
Marissa, and her husband, John, who recently adopted Eli, said drumming is also the perfect remedy for Eli’s need for perpetual movement.
The Goldens have drum kits set up in the basement and on the second floor of their home – with no complaints from the neighbors. In fact, the neighbors loved it when Eli marched and delivered musical cheer – the infectious “Hey Song” – during the most scary and isolating days of the pandemic.
His first band experience was in fourth grade and by fifth grade he was officially hooked.
“His favorite thing in the world was middle school band night because he got to go out on the field and play a song,” Marissa said. “He would say ‘I made it, I made it,’ because we had always attended marching band shows for years.”
Dr. Ian Rossman, Eli’s pediatric neurologist at Akron Children’s, says Eli has matured significantly over the last few years.
“He’s using his drumming as both his creative and therapeutic outlets,” Dr. Rossman says. “Eli is an inspiration to others in his community, and I am very proud of his accomplishments.”
Eli says he loves band for the friends he has made, and the new challenges that come with each week. They are currently working on “Script Ohio,” and the music for the big rivalry game against Massillon. The theme will remain a secret until the half-time show.
In essence, Eli is a different kid when he dons his marching band uniform. Without it, he is more noticeably different. In addition to his hearing loss, he has ADHD. If he is not drumming, he paces a lot, flaps his arms and hums.
“It’s noticeable that he’s a child with special needs,” Marissa said. “However, when he’s in uniform, with his drum and marching, he doesn’t do any of that. He’s right in step, right in time.”