Ted Zimmerman’s parents found that playing the trumpet could calm their 11-year-old troublemaker of a son.
“When I picked up the trumpet I really felt like I found something that I loved, and then other people liked what I was doing, and that I was important to me, to do something well,” says Zimmerman, now 31.
He got into Houston’s High School for Performing and Visual Arts, which led to a music scholarship at the University of Miami. He stayed on in Miami to work as a freelance musician and a mentor for Guitars Over Guns Organization, or GOGO, an after-school program that teaches music to at-risk children.
But on New Year’s Eve, Zimmerman almost lost his ability to play. As he walked out of his house in Coconut Grove to meet some friends, a reveler’s stray bullet clipped his right hand.
“It was the scariest thing that ever happened to me,” he says. “There was a possibility that they might amputate the [index] finger, so it was tough.”
Zimmerman went through a near-reconstruction of the finger, and has recovered the up-and-down movement he needs to play the trumpet. He resumed playing two weeks ago, but needs at least six more months of physiotherapy to recover full use of his finger.
Health insurance covered only part of his medical treatment, so on Sunday, GOGO is hosting the Shot in the Hand Jam, a fundraising concert for Zimmerman and the GOGO program.
“I was one of the first people he called when he got shot,” says Chad Bernstein, 28, who leads GOGO and has been Zimmerman’s best friend since college. They play together in Spam Allstars, which will perform at the benefit.
“About a week after his surgery, another good friend of his, Mark Beverley, came to me and said we should really put on a fundraiser concert for Ted. Then I talked to Ted, and he said, ‘You know, it sucks that this happened, but there’s a good way to tie this into our program.’ ”
Bernstein co-founded GOGO with his father, Bob Bernstein, in 2008, with the idea of filling a void at schools that had cut their music programs.
“It had nothing to do with at-risk kids at first. It was mostly about the music,” Bernstein says. “Then we realized the kids who needed the music the most were the ones that were at risk of dropping out. That’s when we decided to target those areas.”
Six GOGO mentors work with about 60 children, ages 11 to 14, at North Miami Middle School and Miami Edison Senior High, teaching them piano, guitar, drums, trumpet, rapping and singing.
“The whole point of GOGO is to teach contemporary music like hip-hop, R&B and what’s on the radio to attract the kids to want to play,” says Bernstein.
Zimmerman’s recovery has offered its own lessons, he adds.
“The kids have been blown away by his positive attitude and his commitment to work hard and really do what he has to do to be able to play again,” Bernstein says.
“I also think it puts him in a unique position where he’s been held not only to his own standards, but to the standard of being their mentor.”