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The gift of music

By Summer Howatt-Nab

You could say music education major Rick Hicks, 41, has taken the road less traveled, overcoming obstacles along the way. Hicks' determination and discipline have earned him respect from instructors and even a world-renowned trumpet player, who shocked Hicks by giving him a gift to last a lifetime.

Ohio University student Rick Hicks. Photo by Rick FaticaWhile a freshman at Ohio University in 1981, Hicks played trumpet in the Marching 110. Now a junior, Hicks still treasures his days in the Marching 110. "I wish I could do it now, but my legs wouldn't let me," Hicks says. "I haven't missed a Homecoming in 22 years, though."

After his freshman year, Hicks ran short of funds for tuition, so he returned to Steubenville to work. He pursued college funding through the army but that fell through.

"Unfortunately, because I'm flat-footed, my feet wouldn't allow me to finish," explains Hicks. "I was a couple weeks shy of graduating basic training." Because he couldn't serve six months, he wasn't eligible for any benefits.

After his medical discharge, he went back to Steubenville, where he continued to work and raise a family over the next 20 years. When the department stores Hicks worked for closed, he didn't receive any severance pay and felt he didn't have anything to show for his years of hard work.

"My wife and I decided that I should go back to school and finish," Hicks recalls. "We packed up the whole family and moved to Athens. I had already planned to move here, without knowing what the future would hold."

Hicks knew he wanted to go back into music, so he got in touch with Associate Professor of Music and Wind Ensemble Director John Schlabach.

"Rick Hicks called me out of the blue," recalls Schlabach, who was impressed with Hicks' daily three-hour practices. Schlabach also noticed that Hicks has strong aural skills. "He has a very good ear," he says. Schlabach set up an audition a couple days before Thanksgiving and Hicks got accepted back into the School of Music.

"In a year's time he has made amazing progress," Schlabach says. "He's played in Wind Ensemble, one of the top two instrumental groups."

World-renowned trumpet player Allen Vizzutti also recognized Hicks' talent and determination. Hicks met the classical and jazz artist when Vizzutti visited Ohio University in the fall of 2003, one of his countless guest appearances across the country and abroad. Vizzutti also has performed for hundreds of commercials and movie soundtracks, such as "Back to the Future" and "Star Trek."

The musicians hit it off and talked for hours not only about music, but also about family, fishing and their backgrounds. They met up again when Vizzutti returned to Ohio University that winter to perform in the International Trumpet Guild. After the concert, Vizzutti asked Hicks to leave his address with his wife, Laura Vizzutti.

"A month or so later, I was notified that a parcel arrived at the post office," Hicks recalls. "All I knew on Saturday was that it was from Allen Vizzutti. I wondered all weekend what in the world he could be sending me."He thought it was Vizzutti's new book, never suspecting that it could be a brand-new top-of-the-line trumpet. Hicks had once mentioned his old Coronet trumpet in passing.

Music education major Rick Hicks with the trumpet Allen Vizzutti gave him."Monday comes, I'm off to school and swing by the post office. I give the lady the slip and she comes back with this Yamaha box and my jaw just dropped. I was floored." The card that came with the Yamaha Xeno trumpet expressed how kind and inspiring the Vizzuttis thought Hicks was, especially when it comes to his family.

"I owe so much to my wife and children," Hicks says. "They give me so much support and praise." Hicks' family includes his wife, Debbie, and their five children, 13-year old triplets Marquis, Marlin and Maurice; Natesha, 10; and Ashley, 8.

Hicks lives near Strouds Run with his family. "We lucked out finding this place. It's so peaceful and the kids have plenty of room to play. I've never been a country person -- I've always lived in the city -- but I wouldn't trade this place for anything," Hicks says. "We all like it here, and if something arises after I graduate [next year] I would love to stay in this area."

Summer Howatt-Nab, BSJ '04, is a student writer for University Communications and Marketing.

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