NORMAL — Eric Van der Veer Varner, 45, of Lake Worth, Fla., died of an apparent heart attack Friday (Oct. 4, 2019) in Bangkok, Thailand, while on tour giving concerts and master classes with the PEN Woodwind Trio. A true polymath — world-class musician, devoted professor and mentor to dozens of young bassoonists, successful business owner, and even farmer — and an extraordinarily kind and generous man, Eric is being mourned by family, friends and colleagues around the world.
Eric was born on May 15, 1974, in Norman, Okla., and came to Normal, in 1975. He is survived by his parents, Carson and Iris Varner, Normal; his sister, Katrin Varner, Bloomington; her husband, Matthew Alesci; their son, Alexander Van der Veer Alesci; and his fiancee, Evelyn Hesslink, Lake Worth, Fla.
Eric graduated from Normal Community High School in 1992 where he was in the orchestra and marching band. He earned a bachelor of music in bassoon performance at the University of Michigan where he was a member of the Michigan marching band, playing tenor saxophone. He went on to earn master of music and doctor of musical arts degrees, also from the University of Michigan. He also earned a master's degree from the Musikhochschule in Mannheim, Germany.
Eric was a professor and department chair of woodwinds at the Conservatory of Music at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla. He had previously held faculty appointments at Miami University (Ohio), Heidelberg University and Windsor University. In addition, he owned Trevco-Varner, “the world's foremost purveyor of sheet music for double reeds.” He sold sheet music for bassoon, oboe and other double reed instruments in all 50 states and around the world. Along with Phil Paglialonga on clarinet and Nora Lewis on oboe, he was a member of the PEN Trio. They gave concerts and master classes at universities across the United States and around the world. Finally, he had responsibilities marketing corn and soybeans for Varner Farms, of which he was a seventh generation part-owner.
Having studied both piano and saxophone in elementary school, Eric began playing the bassoon while he was a student at Parkside Junior High School, studying with Anthea Hallett-Ybarra. His other notable teachers included Michael Dicker of Illinois State University, Richard Beane and Hugh Cooper of the University of Michigan, and Alfred Rinderspacher of the Musikhochschule Mannheim. Eric treasured his annual trips to the Glickman Popkin Bassoon Camp in Little Switzerland, N.C. He had a long association with the prestigious Interlochen Arts Camp in Interlochen, Mich., having studied there as a camper while in high school and then returning for 11 summers as a camp counselor in the High School Boys Division.
Eric had a great many interests aside from music. He was a fluent speaker of German, having grown up speaking it at home with his family. Together, the Varners made frequent trips to Germany to visit relatives. He was also studying Spanish so that he could better communicate with his fiancee Evelyn's family in Venezuela. Eric was a passionate reader with overflowing bookshelves covering most of the available walls of his home. He was particularly interested in books on medieval European history and science fiction and fantasy. Eric also enjoyed cooking (Jambalaya was a favorite) and baking (especially German Christmas cookies). And he was in the process of restoring a 1974 Opel Manta, the same kind of car in which he was brought home from the hospital, as a surprise for his parents.
Gifts in memory of Eric can be made to Bloomington-Normal Youth Symphony at 113 W. Adelaide, Normal, IL 61761, or at bnyouthsymphony.org. He was a charter member of the orchestra. Eric's family will be establishing a summer music camp scholarship for BNYS members.
A memorial service will be at 11 a.m. Oct. 19 at St. John's Lutheran Church, Bloomington, with a reception to follow. Burial will be at Edgar Cemetery, Paris, Ill., where he will be laid to rest with his grandfather, Carson Hamill Varner, and his great-uncle, Van der Veer Varner.