From the time Terri Benz began piano lessons at age 7, she knew music would be her life — both professionally and creatively.
“My mom, Barbara Wooldridge, has always had a great appreciation for music of all kinds,” Benz said. “Mom directed the Brooklyn United Methodist Church choir and also sang in women’s ensembles. Dorothy Hack Amare, our later choral director, had a powerful influence on my knowledge of church music. And my dad, Dale Wooldridge, has always supported my musical endeavors.”
Benz said after Mildred Vasey’s annual piano recitals she realized she had a love for piano performance. She studied piano under Vasey through high school.
“When I was 15, I was asked to play piano for one of the Jacksonville Theatre Guild’s earliest shows — ‘George M,’” Benz said. “That’s when I realized I might also be interested in theater. However, after high school, I wasn’t interested in being on the theater stage. I wanted to focus solely on music.”
Benz enrolled at MacMurray College after her freshman year at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington. She returned home to study piano and organ with Jay Peterson and voice with Lorraine Laurent at MacMurray, but she got a surprise when she enrolled at the local college.
“I thought transferring to MacMurray would be a cinch since I was a hometown girl,” Benz said, “but I found that wasn’t the case. The entire music faculty had really high standards, and I got a thorough education at MacMurray.”
In college, Benz said she had more of a vocal emphasis.
“One of the best choral directors I ever worked with — and I’ve worked with many — was Richard Hanson, who was choral director at MacMurray for many years,” she said.
During her senior year at MacMurray, Benz began student teaching music and realized she didn’t want to teach in public schools but instead focus on sacred music and private teaching of voice and piano.
She joined the staff at Centenary United Methodist Church in 1984 and continues to serve as the church’s music director and organist.
In 1986, Benz formed the Centenary Children’s Choir, which evolved into the Jacksonville Children’s Choir in 2005.
In 2000, Benz joined the MacMurray music faculty as a voice and piano instructor and in 2006 became MacMurray’s choral director. To advance her musical education, she earned a master’s degree in choral conducting from Western Illinois University in 2008.
Among the highlights of Benz’s teaching career have been directing a MacMurray choir performance tour through Germany and Austria in 2008 and accepting an invitation to the MacMurray choir to sing at Carnegie Hall in New York City in 2010.
In 2011, Benz resigned her position at MacMurray and opened Pine Tree Studio in downtown Jacksonville, where she teaches voice and piano. Pine Tree Studio also is home to Mike Anderson’s dulcimer students and The Music Class for infants and toddlers, taught by Polly Jones.
“Musicians know that music is as essential to life as breathing,” Benz said. “I wouldn’t want to do anything else.”
Greg Olson can be reached at 217-245-6121, ext. 1224, or on Twitter @jjcGregOlson.