Your Piano Teacher’s Early Years
My personal music history began at home and at church. At home my dad played all kinds of music on LP’s and 8 tracks (remember those?) on our home stereo. We actually sat there and listened to it, whether blasting the Redcoat Marching Band album before a Georgia game, or celebrating Christmas playing Handel’s Messiah. And I heard the most beautiful music at my church growing up… First Baptist of Decatur. The church had graded children’s choirs, a 75-voice touring youth choir, and a skilled Sanctuary choir. The two things I loved hearing every Sunday were the choir’s special anthems, and the 9-foot concert grand piano that was used for service music.
The combination of all these experiences ignited a vigorous interest in music in me. From a very early age, I knew that I wanted to pursue a vocation in music ministry.
In elementary school I joined the band, playing clarinet (because that’s what we could afford). I sang in the children’s choirs both at church and school. By the time I entered middle and high school, I expanded my involvement a bit more, adding the concert band and marching band at school, and playing in a youth handbell group and singing in the amazing youth choir at church. I didn’t know it at the time, but God was preparing me to play the piano. I learned how to read the treble clef in band and the bass clef in handbells.
As mentioned before, the clarinet wasn’t my first choice of instruments, but that was ok. I learned all the basic music skills I needed and had a lot of fun along the way. During these early years, I just couldn’t get past the beauty and the sound of the piano at church, so I bought a cheap Casio keyboard (awful, felt nothing like a piano, but it got me going). I was so much in love with the sound of the piano, I took my youth choir music home and, note for note, started teaching myself how to play all the accompaniments. I would literally spend 3 hours at a time practicing on the keyboard in my bedroom. That initial grunt work would eventually get me piano lessons, and I’d be playing in church and accompanying the youth choir by my senior year. Who would have thought?
Your Piano Teacher: Falling in Love with Piano
Eric with Marlene Woodward-Cooper, Palm Beach Atlantic University
It was time. I asked my parents if I could take piano lessons, and not only did they agree, but they also rented a Kawai upright for me to practice on at home. (I guess I earned their trust that I was serious.) Best gift ever! I was already in 10th grade, but I began taking piano lessons at that time with Evelyn Arnn, who sang in the church choir and played the organ from time to time.
What was amazing is that I already had so much music background that I was able to hit the ground running. When I took piano, I didn’t have to learn how to read music—our focus was on how to play the piano. It was quite an adjustment from a small keyboard to a real piano, and it’s a miracle I didn’t have a ton of bad technique to unlearn! Mrs. Arnn took me under her wing and taught me the fundamentals that influence me to this day.
Front row: Eric with his parents Ali and Paul Campbell, Back row: Evelyn and Ed Arnn
Evelyn was a well-loved and highly experienced piano teacher with a long waiting list. The fact that I was able to take piano from her was perceived by me from the very beginning as a great privilege. In my few years with her she gained my respect and admiration, and I, hers. It was surreal to me that she eventually called me her “star student” and after two years said, “I’ve taught him all I can teach him… he needs to go to music school!”
And that’s what I did. I ended up majoring in music in college, pursuing theological education at the same seminary she attended, and becoming a full-time music director at a church in North Carolina. My piano skills influenced the musician and educator and director I would become. In college it helped me immensely with music theory. It wasn’t just about playing piano but becoming a well-rounded musician.
Your Piano Teacher: When Music Becomes a Career
While I was in college, I studied with Marlene Woodward-Cooper, a Manhattan School and Juilliard graduate. What a privilege. I think for the most part in my life, there’s been little else I looked forward to more than going to my piano lessons. The training I would receive, the conversations we would have about life and music, the many times my lesson became a counseling session, and the opportunity I had from time to time to hear my teacher play something amazing… these were all cherished times and moments in my life… that have shaped me to be the person I am today.
Currently I’m a sales manager of a piano store, representing my favorite brand of pianos, Steinway & Sons. I have continued to serve in the music and worship ministry of every church I’ve been in, whether full-time or part-time, whether as a worship leader, pianist, or choir director. And now instead of being a piano student, I’m a piano teacher in Augusta, GA … hoping to impact the lives of my students as my piano teachers have impacted mine, both as a person and as a musician.