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The boy behind the harmonica

Photo courtesy of Coastal Style Magazine

Photo courtesy of Coastal Style Magazine

Cole Moran is a sophomore at Stephen Decatur who has a special talent playing the harmonica, even though he has been blind since birth.

Brianna Watts, Stephen Decatur High School

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Blind since birth, you may not expect sophomore Cole Moran to have more than 6,000 views on YouTube for his ability to play the harmonica. Being surrounded by music since he was a baby, Cole has defied his physical disabilities with his musical abilities.

Moran has numerous medical conditions, other than blindness, including a single kidney, improperly developed eyes, early onset scoliosis, a proxy of speech, and characteristics of CHARGE syndrome, a disorder that affects numerous parts of the body.

Cole’s main motivation for physically developing was music. His mother Jenny Moran, said in an interview with Delmarva Life, “[Music] helped him learn to pull up and stand. Because if he wanted to touch the guitar, he had to figure out how to get to it.”

Around the age of one, Moran began to pick out notes from songs on a toy piano. Cole’s father Frankie Moran, said in an interview with VOA News, “That’s about the same time we discovered he had perfect pitch, because when he would miss a note and hit the wrong note… he would go back and find that note.”

Since four years of age, the harmonica has been Cole’s instrument of choice. In addition, he also plays the hand drums, the piano, and whatever else he wishes to play. According to Mr. Moran, when Cole was five or six years old, his music skills really started to progress, starting with the harmonica. “He could get around on the harmonica so much easier,” Frankie says.

At around six or seven years old, Cole’s heightened ability to recognize a note became evident. “It was around [then] that he started just hearing songs and being able to play them right back as soon as he would hear them,” said Frankie in his interview with VOA News.

Though a native to this area, Cole first attended The Maryland School for the Blind in Baltimore, MD. There he underwent music therapy that helped him learn to speak. Cole and his family decided to move back to Ocean City before Cole started high school so that they could see how he did in mainstream schooling, and so they could be closer to family.

After becoming oriented with the school in the summer before his freshman year, Cole attends Decatur for half a day, with therapy lessons throughout his time there. He is assisted by his vision teacher Sue Flaherty and special education teacher Shanan Hohl. He also participates in choir with Christine Middlecamp. When he is not at school, Cole plays on his piano, listens to music, plays on his scooter around the house, and is “the master of any “Bop It!” toy” according to Frankie Moran.

Being a Decatur graduate of 93’ himself, Mr. Moran first invited Cole to play with him on stage at a performance at the Atlantic Hotel. Cole, having no stage fright, loved it and the duo started their band, Blind Wind in 2014. Cole is now suited with a belt for his harmonicas and remembers where each key is positioned.

According to Frankie, Blind Wind’s mission is “to inspire the world and show everyone that making music is something anyone can do no matter what physical or mental disabilities one might have… And in doing so give confidence, breaking down social barriers and making the world a better place one note at a time.”

A local favorite, the band plays about three times a week in the summer and once every two weeks in the offseason. Performances are typically free and open to the public. Blind Wind has also released two CDs: the first, self-titled “Cole Moran” in 2014, and the second titled “Blind Wind” in 2016.

The band received “Most Inspirational Performance” and second place in the “Adult Bluegrass Band” category at the Annual Fiddlers Convention in Berlin in 2014, and placed first in the “Adult Bluegrass Band” category in 2015. Cole has also received the 2016 Society for the Preservation and Advancement of the Harmonica (SPAH) Youth Scholarship.

Unfortunately, Cole’s treatments are far from over. He must undergo corrective surgeries at Johns Hopkins for his onset scoliosis every eight to nine months until he is fully grown. Except for those days spent recovering from the surgery, “Cole continues to practice the harmonica every day,” according to VOA News.

When he is not playing the harmonica, Frankie says Cole loves “listening to music, swimming, hiking, flying kites, the ocean, mom and dad, playing with his brother, and Disney World.”

In an interview with Delmarva Life, Jenny and Frankie Moran said they believe Cole’s future lies in music. This coming spring, the father and son duo are headed to Nashville to do some recording for Blind Wind and go on tour around the country once the next album for Blind Wind is finished.

Cole says, “When I make music, I am happy.”

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