Faith turns tragedy into beautiful music for pianist
Few who hear him play realize the struggles Brian Arnold overcame to make it on stage, including losing a leg and nearly dying in a traffic accident. Brian remembers that it was Memorial Day weekend. His family was in West Plains visiting his grandparents. While there, his dad decided to mow the yard.
With lunch ready, Brian’s mom sent her son to get his dad. Then 6, Brian recalls running next to his dad, motioning it was time to eat. Suddenly, his dad swerved to miss a bush. The grass, wet with dew, caused Brian to slip and, tragically, the mower ran over his leg.
“I lost my leg just below the knee,” Brian says. “You can probably imagine how much fun some of the kids at school had with the fact I now had a wooden leg.”
Trying to help her son refocus, Brian’s mother saw an ad for a piano for sale. She bought it sight unseen. “And we are not a musically inclined family,” recalls Brian, 54.While the accident was a personal mountain to climb, it wouldn’t hinder Brian’s path to a musical career.
Brian’s dad took a job which moved the family back to West Plains and Brian began taking piano lessons. Brian started showcasing his musical talent at country churches, where his skills were in demand. By high school, he began taking classical piano lessons from a retired concert pianist, which led to music scholarships to then Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield as a music major.
Brian says while he studied piano during the majority of his youth, he never knew music shows existed. So when he learned about variety shows such as the Denny Hilton show in Osage Beach and the Presley’s Country Jubilee in Branson, it was a whole new world for him. By the late ’80s, Brian was looking for a way to work music into a career and shows were just the ticket. One of his first jobs was playing for Mark Sexton’s Starworld Showroom variety show in Osage Beach.
Brian headed to Branson a couple of years later, landing a retail job until he could figure out a way into the local music scene. A friend who had performed with him at the Osage Beach show called one day and said, “I need you to play an audition for me at Silver Dollar City.”
“I was like, ‘Sure, but where is this place?’ ” Brian recalls. “I’d never even been there before, much less heard of it.”
Brian went to work playing piano in 1990 for the Roy Clark Celebrity Theatre. By then, he was feeling more settled into a musical groove, where his talents gave him chances to work with music greats such as Roy Clark, Conway Twitty, Tanya Tucker, Loretta Lynn, Roger Miller, Ricky Skaggs and more.
Soon, Brian became the piano player for the Branson Brothers, and while with them, formed a gospel group called Chosen Few, with brothers Ashley and Casey Ellison and bass singer, Scott Fraker.
By 1994, the group was performing quite often. One wintry day, Brian was driving to meet the quartet at a church near Marshfield. On the way there, his truck hit a patch of black ice on the interstate. His vehicle spun around, ending up in the lane of oncoming traffic, a semi barreling toward him.
“The semi ran over the back of my truck, flipping me over,” recalls Brian. “The steel beams he was hauling were everywhere. I was hanging by my neck from the seatbelt.”
The temperature was dropping and the ice storm hindered the EMTs’ arrival. Brian couldn’t feel his arm, but wasn’t sure why. He later learned a hematoma the size of a football was pushing on his neck. Once at the hospital, doctors weren’t sure Brian would even survive.
“The massive clot was actually a good thing because it held my neck still until they realized it was broken,” recalls Brian, noting that his left arm is permanently paralyzed.
“While everyone was thinking about my neck, I’m laying there thinking, ‘Will I ever play piano again?’ ” Brian says. As days passed, doctors told Brian his neck was healing incorrectly and they’d need to do surgery again to fuse things together. A halo brace became part of his recovery gear for months.
“If I was ever going to give up, that would have been the time to do it,” Brian says.“The Bible says ‘All things work together for good.’ I just wasn’t sure right then what that was going to look like in my life.”
Through pain and practice, Brian learned how to play piano with one hand. Due to his neck injury, one of his vocal chords is also now paralyzed, making it a miracle he can still sing.
While Chosen Few retired from Silver Dollar City a dozen years ago, Brian joined the popular Southern gospel quartet, Spoken 4, in 2020. Now also an ordained minister, Brian shares his story as a motivational speaker and continues to play piano with the group.
“Everyone faces things to overcome. Through faith in God you can overcome adversity,” Brian says. “Take your story and help someone else make it over their mountain.”
To book Brian as a speaker call 417-880-6370 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Brian’s bio, “From Victim to Victory: A Story of Hope” can be purchased online. To book the Spoken 4, call 417-230-3637 or 870-577-1862.