By the Way

Ocean Springs music teacher knows what love is

By JEFF CLARK

Sun Herald

Eric Funches plays with his son Eli'Briel. Health issues are forcing Funches to leave his job at Ocean Springs Upper Elementary School.
Eric Funches plays with his son Eli'Briel. Health issues are forcing Funches to leave his job at Ocean Springs Upper Elementary School.

My first musical love was AM radio. As a young child, I looked forward to hearing “Shambala” by Three Dog Night and “Superstar” by The Carpenters when I was in the car with my parents or grandparents.

Around the age of 7, I discovered FM radio and the joys of Journey, Boston, Pink Floyd and Foreigner. No band represents my fascination with FM radio rock more than Foreigner.

The band released “4” when I was 10, and it seemed like they pretty much ruled the airwaves with the songs “Jukebox Hero,” “Urgent” and “Waiting for a Girl Like You.”

I also have a fond memory of an episode of “WKRP in Cincinnati” where Les Nesman is getting ready for a date with the lovely Jennifer Marlowe while “Hot Blooded” plays in the background. I was very disappointed when I bought the show on DVD and the rights to the songs featured on the show had not been purchased and were not included.

When I was 13, Foreigner released “Agent Provocateur,” which included the massive hit “I Want to Know What Love Is.”

The choir at Ocean Springs Upper Elementary School will be joining the band on stage Saturday night at the Hard Rock Live to sing “I Want to Know What Love Is.”

I’ve spent a little time with the choir and their teacher, Eric Funches, as they prepare for the big show.

I knew Funches was creating something special when I went to the school to let his choir know they had won the contest to sing with Foreigner. He was going through “Imagine” with one of his students. It was a very poignant moment to see an elementary school student singing the words of John Lennon.

Before my arrival, Funches had delivered some bad news to his beloved students. He told them that he would be leaving his post as the school’s music director immediately because of some health issues. He told them it would be his last day at the school.

Funches has acromegaly, a rare disease that causes the body to create too much of the growth hormone. It can cause what is known as giantism in children.

Because of his disease, Funches has had to deal with a host of issues including brain tumors. Although he is currently tumor-free, the disease has impacted his spine. He said he has “stroke-like symptoms” if he turns his head too much. He is in a great deal of pain, and he has to wear a neckbrace.

But it hasn’t diminished his spirit.

When the Ocean Springs Upper Elementary School Choir performs with Foreigner Saturday night, they will do so with a huge advantage. This group of children will never have to “want to know what love is.”

They already know what love is because of Eric Funches.

Jeff Clark is a staff writer for the Sun Herald.

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