UAHS Music Director makes his program a force to be reckoned with

By Griffin Gulcher

On a bright Monday morning in August 2001, a man walked through the doors of UAHS. He was young and nervous. As he walked through the hallways he planned his day: warm ups, sight reading, rhythm, and the like.

Then he arrived at his room, which was filled with seats waiting to be filled with students. His students. The man set down his things and prepared his lesson for the day. Then the bell.

Students began to fill the room. Only a handful, no more than 30 or so. They looked with questioning eyes at the strange man who stood at the head of the classroom. So, too, did teachers move in to observe this newcomer. The nerves were almost too much to bear. But the show must go on, and this was opening night. He greeted his students and nodded to his observers.

His name was Eric Kauffman, heir to a legacy of greatness known as the Upper Arlington Vocal Music Department. But that greatness had dwindled, and it was his mission to help the program regain its former glory. The former Hastings choir teacher raised his hands, nodded to his accompanist, and with the start of his conducting came the start of a new era.

Now, 11 years later, that greatness has been realized. Kauffman, with the might of 450 voices at his command, has brought the Vocal Music Department to new heights. With the loyalty of his allies, the Vocal Music Boosters, the support of principal Kip Greenhill, and the respect of his many students, Eric Kauffman has created a program is a definite force to be reckoned with. But Eric was not always the fearless leader he is today.

Coming from rough neighborhood from inner city Columbus, Kauffman was accepted to Bowling Green State University. There, he met future accompanist Amy Lentner, later to be known as Amy Leacock.

“I was very sheltered, while he was very ‘chip on the shoulder’ kind of guy,” Leacock said. “And he didn’t know anything music-wise.”

But despite his lack of formal music training, Kauffman became enthralled by music under the teachings of Richard D. Mathey, the lead music director at Bowling Green. Kauffman, being “the sponge that he was,” as said by Leacock, went from knowing nothing about music to making music his entire life.

Even today, the teachings of Mathey have stuck with Kauffman in his own lessons.

“I’m not shy about saying this. I would say 90 percent of what I do I learned in his classes,” Kauffman said.

He views his program like a business plan, another lesson he learned from Mathey.

“You’re only as good as the sum of your parts,” Kauffman said, and there are many parts to the machine that is the Vocal Music Program. Eric uses the resources of the Vocal Music Boosters, the dedication of his students, and his own vision to create a profitable product.“Let’s sing for our supper,” he said.

And sing they do. The Vocal Music Program has introduced several new additions to their department, such as the sophomore’s Concert Choral and the initially one-time Fall Follies, which has become a major revenue-generating tool to fund the program for the past 10 years.

This progress has caught the attention and gained the support of the school’s 17-year principal Kip Greenhill.

“The vision of [UAHS]…is to make people better people,” Greenhill said, “and I think he buys into that philosophy.”

Greenhill attributes Kauffman’s success to his ability to connect with his students.

“He uses music, I think, to teach his students…the necessity of hard work and the importance of commitment,” Greenhill said. “He’s one of the best—if not the best—I’ve ever seen as far as effectiveness as a teacher.”

Kauffman continues to impress both the school and the people of Upper Arlington with the high level of performance he presents to them with his choirs.

It’s been a long time since that day he first stepped into UAHS, and even longer since his days at Bowling Green, where it all began. A long time since he first met Mathey and Amy Leacock. A long time since he even discovered his love for music.

Now, he has gone from the “chip on your shoulder” college freshman to the leader of a respected and impressive music program with hundreds of members. Not bad for a kid from inner city Columbus.