PROFILE: Music Lessons
Eric Kopecky, the orchestra teacher at Southern Middle, likes to relate life lessons to his students through circuitous bowling analogies.
"Kids say to me, 'Well, I can't play it that way,'" he says, "But people complain they can't bowl because there's too much oil on the lane. So the manager will say, 'If you're a baseball player and can only hit fast balls, are you going to ask me to throw you only fast balls because that's the only thing you can hit?' That's not the reality of the subject. You have to work with what you get."
Kopecky, 36, worked in a bowling center in New York for 15 years before he found his real calling: teaching music. He has been in music education for the past 11 years, and he moved from New York to teach in Moore County four years ago.
In those four years, Kopecky has become something of a local musical juggernaut.
Kopecky divides the bulk of his time among his nearly 100 orchestra students at Southern Middle and Academy Heights Elementary, where he started teaching this year.
"There's a fine line between teaching the music and entertaining the kids with the music to keep them interested," Kopecky says. "You don't want to pander to them at all, but you do want to keep their interest in what they're doing."
His schedule outside the classroom is pretty packed. Kopecky plays with the Fayetteville Symphony when he can, and he performs with the Moore County Orchestra in the fall. He's set to co-direct Southern Middle's spring musical. He has also been busy finishing his portfolio for his national board teaching certification.
Kopecky says he uses outside experiences to help him make music more interesting to his students.
"If you can show them that you enjoy doing it," Kopecky says, "they're more apt to contribute to it."
This is the second year of one of Kopecky's most ambitious projects -- the Moore Philharmonic Orchestra. Kopecky started the orchestra for students and adults in the community who wanted a little extra playing time and couldn't drive to Fayetteville or Raleigh for comparable opportunities.
"There was nothing around here," he says. "We had a lot of kids here who were beyond the level of what we were doing (in orchestra class), and there was nothing else for them to really get in."
While there are talented student musicians in Moore County, Kopecky says, many of them lose steam once they get to high school because of tight course schedules and lack of funding for music programs. Kopecky would like to see that change.
"I have some kids in my class that this is the best thing they do all day," he says. "That's what keeps them coming back to school, and that's what encourages them to keep their grades up. We need to validate that this does educate the students. It's not just a frill."
Kopecky, of course, is a talented musician in his own right. In addition to composing and arranging music, he also functions as a one-man mini-orchestra.
"My major was actually the bassoon," he says. "But I double on most woodwinds. I'm adequate at the string instruments. I have experience on brass and percussion. So I basically do everything."
The only instrument he can't play?
"The guitar," Kopecky says. "It's more of a weapon than an instrument in my hands."
He averages about a show a year with the Sandhills Little Theater, performing in plays like "Oliver!," "Annie Get Your Gun," and, most recently, the lead role of Professor Harold Hill in "The Music Man." Kopecky says his musical career started off, in high school, by chance.
"I wanted to do speech and debate," he says, "but it was too much work. So one of the guys on the speech and debate team told me to try theater."
But Kopecky's theatrical career isn't limited to musical theater. He played an extra on the TV show "Seinfeld," appearing for a few brief moments in the "Urban Sombrero" episode.
"I was sitting very close to (show star) Julia Louis-Dreyfus," he says.
A Real New Yorker
Kopecky graduated with a degree in music education from Fredonia State in New York and went on to receive a master's degree from Queens College. He began school intending to major in music, but he soon figured out that music education better suited his personality.
"To be a music major, you really have to spend all your time on your instrument," he says, "and I had other interests. I wanted to do composition. I was interested in theory. I was into the creative part."
Kopecky, who was raised on Long Island, says his move down South hasn't been without its communication challenges.
"Like I say someone's such a 'yenta,'" he says, "and people go, 'What?' and I go, 'A yenta.' They go, 'What does that mean?' And I say, 'A nosy-body, what else would it mean?'"
While he says living in Moore County does have its benefits, certain foods here don't measure up to New York standards, especially when it comes to pizza and bagels.
"It's a food withdrawal thing," he says. "I go back up there and I gain about 12 pounds."
Kopecky fills the pizza-and-bagel void -- and de-stresses from his work day -- by playing computer games.
"I just like to do crossword puzzles, matching games," he says. "I can't do anything else. I know people like 'World of Warcraft' and stuff like that, but I'm like my father. My father says, 'I'll play a video game as long as I don't have to shoot anything or jump over anything.' Just as long as I have to move stuff around, I can do that."
From computer games to composing, Kopecky says he tries to keep everything tied to a saying he learned while working at the bowling center:
"If you can't have fun doing it, then it's not worth doing."
Katherine Evans can be reached at 693-2480 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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