Turns out, they were right.
Ben Cooper, a Blackhawk Christian High School graduate, is grown-up now, and he hasn't stopped tickling those ivories since. Cooper, 24, has turned music into a career, having grown into a talented and successful songwriter who's taking Nashville, Tenn. - and soon, he hopes, the world - by storm.
“From an early age, I was forced to take piano lessons against my will,” he said. “Not really, I enjoyed them a little bit.”
Cooper was home in Fort Wayne for his upcoming wedding Saturday, and he wrote the processional music to which his fiancée will walk down the aisle.
“I always hated the competitions, though,” he said, “because I was just going to be trying to be just as good as the next kid who was taking piano lessons. And we always had to learn music that some old guys made a long time ago.”
Now, Cooper makes his own music. Good music.
On Oct. 1, Cooper signed a deal with Montage Music Group, a Nashville-based publishing company, to create 10 songs a year for three years.
The deal came after Cooper co-wrote a song, “Courageous,” with Australian country-pop singer Melinda Schneider. Schneider performed the song with Olivia Newton-John for Newton-John's “A Celebration in Song” album that was dedicated to breast cancer research.
After signing Cooper, Montage sent him to Australia in November to write again with Schneider in hopes of recreating the magic that came from “Courageous.” The duo co-wrote six songs during their time there.
Cooper says his influences are diverse, naming the Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Coldplay. While he's based in Nashville, which calls itself the country music capital of the world, he won't wear that hat, so to speak.
“I can't say that I would ever wear a cowboy hat, necessarily, but that's not to say I can't have a little bit of success in what Nashville has,” said Cooper.
“Hopefully what I do is bring something new and something fresh. The best thing I can do to stay fresh and not get into a rut … is to keep exposing myself to different types of art.”
Since graduating from Nashville's Belmont University in 2007, Cooper has been living in a whirlwind - though not entirely that of a celebrity.
After college, he improbably connected with country singer Alan Jackson's road manager, who asked the recent audio engineering major to tour and perform with Jackson and country group Brooks & Dunn.
Though not exactly.
Cooper suited up as Jackson's mascot, dressed as a cartoony Jackson look-alike to entertain the crowd between sets with a guitar-shaped T-shirt launcher.
After that gig, Cooper brewed coffee and lattes at Starbucks.
All the while, though, he wrote, mixed demos in his bedroom and flooded production companies with samples. In early October, it paid off.
“It's sort of the beginning, what I was hoping for and anticipating,” said Cooper. “It's a business of potentials, and you try to get as many balls rolling as you can. You never know which ones are going to escalate into opportunities.”