Lasting Impressions: Jeff Arnold

GATESVILLE — Jeff Arnold is a local boy who made good then came home to do good.

I met Arnold in the choir room of the Methodist church a half-hour before the first performance of the third season of the Jeff Arnold Foundation Festival Concerts Series.

He was about to accompany two young oboists on piano, and his preperformance anxiety level was zero. The Kirsch, Bitsch, Marcello and Bach selections for the concert were obviously no challenge for this concert veteran.

He casually chatted about where he’d been and where he wanted to go.

“I never wanted to be anything but a musician,” he said.

A native of San Marcos, Arnold grew up in Gatesville. His Coryell County family roots go deep. His great-great-grandfather had a medical practice and pharmacy in Copperas Cove. His great-grandfather had a pharmacy in Gatesville.

At the age of 8, he began lessons with Orpa Mayo, he said. “She was my first and only piano teacher.”

After graduating from Gatesville High School in 1977, Arnold didn’t stick around.

“I left town and stayed away for 35 years,” he said.

He studied piano at North Texas State University and organ at Baylor University before launching a wide-ranging career as a solo artist and accompanist.

Arnold’s music carried him across the United States and Canada. He played a chamber concert at New York’s Carnegie Hall in 1989 and returned to that venerated venue for a piano duo performance in 1994.

In 1995 he was off to Europe and the United Kingdom. He played five straight seasons in the U.K. and France.

He returned to the U.S. and spent 10 years in Chicago, where he met — or re-met — his partner, Billy Byrom. “We were old schoolmates in Gatesville,” Arnold said. “We’ve reconnected after 35 years.”

He moved back to Gatesville to settle down in 2009. “It was a little tough after having been gone so long,” he said. “Some things were greatly improved; some had deteriorated.”

Arnold brought with him the vibrant energy of a worldwide music career and channeled it into the foundation that bears his name. His aim is to inspire, encourage and enable promising young musicians with a concert series to raise scholarship money.

“It takes all hands on deck to help parents who have a talented child meet the added expenses of music lessons, college, clothes for concerts,” he said.

Arnold was a kid who followed his dream then circled back to help other kids follow their dreams.

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