Lawrence Central football player turns to violin

Lawrence Central senior Ronald Gilbert took up violin in the fifth grade.
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Scott Swan/Eyewitness News

Indianapolis - This month, high school seniors are graduating and beginning the next stage of life. In many cases, they are headed off to college with dreams, that for some began as young children. For Lawrence Central senior Ronald Gilbert, he is riding a dream thanks in part to Kings Island.

For most of his life, Gilbert got his blood pumping through weightlifting and playing football.

"When I play football, I love the adrenaline it gives me," says Gilbert. "You get real pumped up and hyped. You're ready to get out there and hit somebody."

"When you look at him, almost every play his helmet is on backwards every play," says Lawrence Central football coach Jayson West. "He ended up, two years in a row, being our best defensive lineman. I think tenacious is a great word to describe him. He's relentless when it comes to doing his job."

Gilbert discovered another passion in life as a fifth grader at Craig Middle School in Indianapolis. The kid without any music experience was asked by a faculty member to join the orchestra.

"I was basically tuning him out until he said we get the chance to go to Kings Island. So, when he said that, I immediately signed up. I said, 'Dad will you sign my papers. I want to play violin,'" recalls Gilbert.

Gilbert's family had no music background. His mother remembers the first time she heard her son play the violin.

"I would hear screeching. I'd just walk by and keep going. Tell him to shut his door, shut the door," said Tumikia Gilbert.

"My parents were confused where it came from because nobody in my family is music oriented," says Gilbert.

As a new violin player, Gilbert was hard to spot in the school orchestra.

"I got put back in the back of the section and because I'm really competitive, I practiced every day, so I can get better, so I can keep moving up. And eventually I became concert master."

The hard work paid off. In seven years, Ronald has become one of the top young music talents in Central Indiana.

"He's a really, really talented violinist. He's very musical when he plays. He has great technique," says Lawrence Central's Director of Orchestras Sarah Milazzo.

His football coach is equally impressed and worried about protecting the young violinist during football games.

"We were always so worried about his fingers. I wanted to put gloves, mittens and tape and pan holders. I was so nervous he would injure his hands," says West.

Gilbert's strong hands and muscular build proved to be a musical challenge.

"With violin, I tend to tense up all the time. Because I have muscles and I just tense up and you're not supposed to do that when you play violin. Your arm is supposed to be really loose. And gentle. And, it's totally opposite from football," says Gilbert. "I guess I can be more sensitive when I play the violin. I can let more emotions flow through. When you're playing music, you have to bring out your emotions and bring out your dynamics. Your vibrato and your sound."

Gilbert was skilled in both violin and football. But he was beginning to emerge as a music talent, earning awards at competitions and capturing the heart of one judge who cried when she heard him play.

"When he plays, he just plays so well, and he's having fun while he's doing it and that's exactly what the judge said on her comment sheet was 'don't ever stop playing," says Milazzo. "He's always gotten gold ratings at ISMA for solo ensemble. We feature him in a lot of solos at Lawrence Central. He's just a great, great violinist."

The music instructor at Lawrence Central said one of Gilbert's biggest music strengths is capturing the emotion of each piece of music that he plays.

"If he's going through a section that's kind of fun, fast and up tempo, he'll be smiling while he plays. If he's trying to do something very serious, very emotional, he'll have his eyes shut and the expression on his face. You can see it in the movement of his body and in the vibrato of his left hand," says Milazzo.

"You have to play with your emotions or it wouldn't be a good performance," says Gilbert. "Without bringing any emotion, you'll be up there standing there and you won't be playing music, you'll just be playing notes. And that's not something that a true musician strives to do."

The Lawrence Central senior found himself excelling musically despite one major hurdle. His music was good even though his violin was not.

"We wanted a violin that would showcase his strengths and give him a lot that he could improve on with his own playing," says music teacher Susan Kitterman. "He needed something more high performance. Something that needed more of a spectrum of sound. More variation between loud and soft and all the different colors."

People who heard Gilbert's music became inspired and raised money to purchase a better instrument for the young violinist. Gilbert recently held a recital in Indianapolis for the people. His thank-you pulled across the strings one grateful note at a time.

"I couldn't thank them enough for getting me this instrument," says Gilbert.

Ronald has earned a 21st Century Scholar award at Indiana University and now plans to study music and law. A young man headed to college on a "full ride" because he once dreamed of a ride on a roller coaster.

"I never thought I'd play the violin, to tell you the truth," says Gilbert.