"Hard work trumps talent" is the message Eric Kauffman is fond of sharing with his students at Upper Arlington High School.
The school's vocal music director points to himself as an example.
"To be quite honest, I had no business going into music school since I had no formal training," he said. "I only had what I picked up in my high school choir classes. I had very little formal music knowledge but I had a decent voice and acting skills, so I thought I would ride those skills for as long as I could."
That ride led to a successful career in music education and recognition as one of three central Ohio music teachers to win a 2014 Music Educator Award from the Columbus Symphony Orchestra.
The other two winners are Linda Price Huff, general music teacher at Scioto Elementary School, and Richard Suddendorf, music director and conductor of Westerville Community Bands.
All three will receive a $2,500 grant and will accept their awards at ceremonies slated for 12:30 p.m. Sunday, March 2, at the Westin Hotel in Columbus.
"The award really is quite a humbling honor," Kauffman said. "To know that I was chosen out of all of the talented and hard-working music teachers in central Ohio is a bit overwhelming.
"It makes me feel a sense of responsibility to continue to work hard to represent what the award stands for."
Kauffman directs six different choirs at UAHS: freshman choir, concert chorale, symphonic choir, vocal ensemble, men's chorus and women's chorus, besides directing the school's musical theater productions.
"When I took over at UAHS 13 years ago, the program had just over 100 students," he said. "We quickly grew and currently average around 300 students. Our annual musical theater production averages anywhere from 60 to 100 students in the cast, depending on the show, with another 15 to 20 students on the technical crew and 20 to 30 students in the pit orchestra."
Kauffman is a graduate of Columbus South High School. He attended Bowling Green State University, earning a bachelor's degree in vocal music education with a choral emphasis and a master's degree in choral conducting performance.
He said Brian Johnston, his high school choir director, was a big inspiration.
"I loved the rapport that he had, not only with his current students but also with the alumni," Kauffman said. "I cherished that sense of history and community they shared with each other as they would speak of concert moments from the past.
"I loved performing, but more importantly, I really loved rehearsing and trying to get better at the craft," he said. "Music really spoke to me as a student and I noticed how positively affected all of the kids were who were involved in choir and musical theater productions, so I decided to try my hand in vocal music education."
He said his college mentor was music educator R. D. Mathey, who "taught me everything I know about what I do on a daily basis with my love of music and career in teaching."
"Mr. Johnston led me to the ocean. I foolishly jumped in and R.D. Mathey taught me to swim," Kauffman said. "Because of those two men in my life, I'm a member of a satisfying and fulfilling teaching profession."
Before accepting his position at Upper Arlington High School in 2001, he spent two years directing choral music at Gotha Middle School in Orlando and two years directing the music program at Upper Arlington's Hastings Middle School.
He has also served as director of the Singing Buckeyes Barbershop Chorus, the Otterbein College Men's Glee Club and chancel choir at the Worthington United Methodist Church. He has been a guest clinician with the Fairfield County Junior High Honors Chorus, the Ohio Music Education Association District III high school and junior high honors choruses.
"I often tell my students -- and especially the student teachers I work with -- that I am a teacher who loves music and uses music to instill the valuable lessons of how work and perseverance can take you a long way in this world," he said. "I'm not a musician who couldn't find a regular gig so I decided to teach.
"I enjoy the process of teaching my students to be self-sufficient musicians," he said.
He said the daily progress of each student is rewarding.
"I tell my students that no matter what you're going to do in life, make it your very best," he said. "I think the greatest life lessons our students get through singing in a large choral program is that every voice counts. It takes everyone's collective energy to take something good and make it great."