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A fine young fellow with a cello

Snowman Foundation grant brings out musical side of Preston Barlow


by: REVIEW, TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - The Snowman Foundation thought so much of Preston Barlow that the organization gave him a cello. He has big plans for a musical future.Preston Barlow wants to be a cello player, cop, dancer, singer, actor or astronaut.

Or maybe all of them at the same time.

The irrepressible 9-year-old student at Lake Oswego’s Forest Hills Elementary has the energy, talent and willpower to have a lot of careers, but right now things are looking awfully good for his future as a cellist. Preston was recently selected to receive a grant from the Snowman Foundation. Of course, he used the money to buy a cello, and he greatly expanded his horizons in the process.

“When Preston said he wanted to play the cello, I knew the monthly fee of renting a cello was out of reach,” said Erin Charles, Preston’s mother. “I had attended Ten Grands (a concert held to raise money for the Snowman Foundation) for the last five years, and I knew about the program. I am grateful he was chosen and for it to be done so quickly.”by: REVIEW, TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Preston Barlow started out playing Mary Had a Little Lamb. Now he is playing more complicated songs.

Why did Preston decide to play the cello? He says he thought it had a really cool sound. His cello epiphany came when he was in the third grade and a string trio showed up to entertain his class. The notes of the cello sounded the most beautiful to him.

“I really liked the sound of the cello because it wasn’t too high, and it wasn’t too low,” Preston said.

Now, Preston is enrolled in the strings program at Forest Hills Elementary School and goes to cello class four days a week. He has practiced hard to get where he is.

“I learned that you had to be in the fourth grade to be in the strings program, so during the summer I told my parents that I really wanted to play cello next year,” Preston said. “After the first week of strings, I could sort of play ‘Hot Cross Buns’ and a little bit of ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb.’ Now I can play ‘Allegro’ and ‘Long, Long Ago.’”

Can “Flight of the Bumblebee” be far away? Not at the rate Preston is going. He plans to play all summer so he can learn how to play the song “Little Talks” on the cello, because he saw someone playing it in a Coke commercial while he was at the movies. It will also help Preston stay sharp on his posture.by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: PETER VAN HOUTEN - Preston Barlow and his mother Erin Charles were all smiles at the party where recipients of the 2014 Snowman Foundation awards were announced.

Preston’s musical ambitions came about because he was stricken with a serious physical challenge when he was just 7 years old. It was Perthes disease, a rare condition in which the head of the femur dissolves and comes out of its socket because it doesn’t have enough blood flow. The discovery that Preston had Perthes disease shocked his family and caused a lot of tears.

“After a year (of physical therapy) went by, he was still in pain and things looked worse,” Charles said. “I remember that once I was alone in my car and couldn’t stop crying.”

She and Preston’s father struggled to find the right solution to their son’s condition before finally deciding that surgery would be best. In fact, two surgeries were necessary.

“The recovery process was hard because I stayed in the hospital for five days,” Preston said. “One night it hurt so bad I was pushing the pain medicine button over and over again. I couldn’t stop crying.”

But he made his family proud.by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: PETER VAN HOUTEN - Musician Michael Allen Harrison of the Snowman Foundation congratulates Preston Barlow for being a recipient of the foundations award.

“Preston was amazing through all of his appointments,” Charles said. “He asked questions, asked the doctor to draw out what he was going to do to his bones, and shared his story with anyone who asked.”

Recovery was a grueling process. Preston was put on a not-so-hearty diet of saltine crackers and other bland food. He had to use a wheelchair for six weeks and then a walker for six weeks. Getting out of bed could be scary. When the metal plate was removed from his hips, he was still scared to walk.

Music proved to be Preston’s savior. With physical activities closed to him, he started learning to play the piano. But he soon decided the lessons didn’t move fast enough for him. He wanted to learn how to play full songs, and so he turned to the strings program.

Now, Preston’s physical abilities have been completely restored.

“I can run, jump and climb and it doesn’t hurt my leg,” Preston said.by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: T.J. BARLOW - Preston Barlow, right, races down the field in a recent lacrosse match. He is making up for lost time after being held out of sports for more than a year.

He was like an unleashed tiger. He now takes hip hop classes, plays lacrosse and plans to take dancing classes this summer. Apparently, he never gets tired, although sometimes he worries about it.

“Sometimes I feel like I have too much going on, especially on Tuesdays and Thursdays, because they are long days,” Preston said. “I wouldn’t change it though, because I like doing it all. I’m thinking about doing football, too, but I haven’t decided yet because it might interfere with dance.”

Because the Snowman Foundation put a cello in his hands, Preston plans to move into the elementary program next year, and “one day I’d like to play at Symphony in the Park in downtown Portland,” he said.

Pinpointing a career is impossible right now, but Preston has a general plan in mind for his life.

“I want to be something that can help the community or entertain people,” he said.

Preston Barlow has the potential to be an acting musician who dances, arrests bad guys and travels in outer space — all while making time to play football, of course.

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