By the Way

Ocean Springs choir director takes final bow Monday night



Twitter: thejeffclark

Eric Funches sys goodbye to his students and friends at Ocean Springs Upper Elementary School after a performance Monday night.
Eric Funches sys goodbye to his students and friends at Ocean Springs Upper Elementary School after a performance Monday night.

Eric Funches took his final bow Monday night as a music teacher at Ocean Springs Upper Elementary School, where he was the director of the OSUE Show Choir. The choir delivered their spring performance Monday, which was Funches’ final commitment at the school.

Funches is walking away while at the top of his game, much like Frank Sinatra did when he had Paul Anka write “My Way” for him. (When Sinatra decided to return to the spotlight, Anka penned “Let Me Try Again” for him.)

Although he had high hopes of returning to teaching after a long absence, Funches’ battle with acromegaly would once again adversely affect his health, and it forced him to walk away after only a year at OSUE.

But what a difference he made during that year.

The OSUE Show Choir was the winner of the Sun Herald Sing With Foreigner contest. And sing with the band they did.

I had the honor of breaking the news to the kids that they had won the contest and would sing with Foreigner April 23 at the Hard Rock Live in Biloxi.

The news could not have come at a better time for the students as Funches had just an hour or so earlier told them that he would be stepping down, and he would not be able to finish the year. But Funches would complete the two tasks ahead -- he would deliver the choir to the Hard Rock Live and he would direct them in their spring recital.

Before the choir would join Foreigner on stage to sing “I Want to Know What Love Is,” Funches faced the difficult task of whittling it down from 50 to the elite 25 who would attend the show at the Hard Rock Live. And in the process, he had to teach his students a valuable lesson -- life isn’t always fair.

"This is a life lesson for y'all," Funches told his class on the day of the auditions. "Do your best at all times because life is not always fair."

On the night of Saturday, April 23, Funches and his selected chaperones brought the best of the best -- 25 female sixth graders -- to the Hard Rock. One young lady, Novalee, even made the trip on crutches, her loving grandmother by her side.

It was a magical night. For not only did Funches and the choir win over the sold-out crowd, they also made an impact on the band.  This was evident when Foreigner singer Kelly Hansen stopped the show while the kids were on the stage and asked Funches to join him in the spotlight. After praising Funches and the choir, Hansen then presented him with an Epiphone guitar signed by the band.

During Monday's performance, the full show choir expertly performed Katy Perry’s “Firework,” Pharrell's “Happy” and R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly.” But Funches stole the show when he sang Bruno Mars’ “Count On Me.” It was a very touching and moving moment.

I wish Eric Funches well in the next chapter of his life. I’m grateful for his friendship and the impact he has made the students at OSUE, the guys in Foreigner and on my own life.

I leave him with the words of Tennyson: “ We are not now that strength which in old days.

“Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are, One equal temper of heroic hearts, Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will, To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

-- Jeff Clark is a staff writer for the Sun Herald