Archive for Wednesday, January 17, 2001

He teaches from start to finish

January 17, 2001

With a musician and band director for a father, Will Cooper grew up surrounded by music. He rode in the family's Volkswagen bug between a tuba and a string bass, listened as his father and others practiced at home and eventually was a student in his dad's classroom at school.

"Music was a part of my life, but I didn't realize it," Cooper said.

What he did realize was that he didn't want to follow his dad's footsteps into the classroom.

"In ninth grade, I remember saying, 'I will never do this,'" Cooper said. "But after I got into college, I decided, 'This is what I want to do.'"

He pursued a degree in music education, and has been the Baldwin school district's only band teacher for 15 years joining what has become a family occupation.

"I come from a long line of band directors," Cooper said. "My dad is a band director. My sister is a band director."

Cooper, a trumpet player, thought he became a teacher because he loved music. However, he learned he enjoyed working with students just as much.

"This is just what I do," Cooper said of music. "I got in it to make music. I found music is a big part of it, but not all of it. I enjoy working with kids."

Cooper teaches about 250 students everyday, except for during a 30-minute planning period. Band classes begin in fifth grade, and Cooper teaches some students over the course of eight years.

"I try to make it fun, but it's serious, too," Cooper said of his teaching philosophy. "There's no magic secret to (learning to play music). Some kids are naturally gifted at it. I don't think I was one of those. I just have to work, and work and work."

Cooper, like his students, practices at home. He is the principal trumpet player in the Topeka Symphony Orchestra, and is also a member of the orchestra's brass quintet. Between the two, Cooper is part of around 18 performances a year. His favorite concert is performing for thousands of children during a "school day" concert. That concert reflects the example he tries to set everyday with his own students.

"I think it's important that music teachers still make music," Cooper said. "There are teachers who don't, and I think children need to see the music. We watch people play sports, but we turn on the radio to hear music."

In other extracurricular endeavors, Cooper was recently named president-elect of the Northeast Kansas Music Educators Association. He also was re-elected to the Kansas Bandmasters Association.

"It's a nice field to work in," Cooper said. "The people I work with from other schools have been supportive."

In the classroom, Cooper said there are advantages and disadvantages of teaching all the band students in the district.

"An advantage is the students get consistency," Cooper said. "The disadvantage is they only see you, they only see your perspective. And you don't get to see the kids as much as you like to, because there are so many of them. Sometimes you don't get to know them until they are juniors in high school."

Cooper said new challenges offer motivation for his band students. Several times a year there are solo, ensemble and group competitions or festivals. He said his students usually receive the highest ratings ones and twos, on a scale of five.

"What I think is neat is that we have about 90 percent participation in solo and ensemble competition, because it's optional," Cooper said. "We usually do pretty well."

Cooper said the students are eagerly awaiting a new challenge performing in a parade at Disneyworld in Orlando, Fla. this spring.

"Sometimes you need a new challenge," Cooper said. " The kids are pretty pumped up about it. We are doing all the traditional tourist places. We are going to the beach for a day. A lot of students have never seen the ocean."

Cooper said the band has traveled as far as Branson, Mo., but that a four-day trip with 70 students and ample adult chaperones is a first.

"This is the biggest we have ever gone on to actually get on a plane and fly to Florida," he said. "Hopefully it will go smoothly and we can do it again."

Cooper said the Baldwin High School band of 70 students has grown from about 30 students when he started teaching. It is obvious, he said, that the program will reach the point of needing a second band director.

"I'd like to see another director, to see the program expand," Cooper said.

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