Band teacher brings experience
By Nick Longworth
Park Rapids high school and Century middle school have a new face responsible for keeping them in time.
New this school year, John Cook will be the official instrumental music instructor for both the middle and high school.
He was born in Springfield, Ill., but moved to the Brainerd area at the age of three when his family relocated for work.
He grew up in Central Minnesota and attended Brained elementary Little Falls middle and Princeton high schools.
It was at Princeton that his band instructor, Lee Peterson, first planted the seed of inspiration in Cook’s mind about maybe pursuing music as a full-time profession.
After high school Cook attended Gustavus Adolphus College, earning a bachelor’s degree in music education.
At Gustavus, Cook was the section leader for trombone in the school band. He was also an instrumental music assistant and received departmental honors in music composition. Along with his achievements, he was also granted the opportunity to travel to Norway and Sweden with performing bands.
Not satisfied yet, Cook then pursued a master’s degree in music from Sam Houston State University.
Degrees in hand, he bounced around a couple temporary positions, starting in 2005 with stints in Mankato, Albert Lea and Cross Lake. Finally, he landed a long-term position with Ogilvie school district, teaching both middle school and high school band.
Throughout Cook’s experiences, he has held numerous positions.
“I literally have taught everything from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade band and choir music,” said Cook.
But after seven years at Ogilvie, Cook began looking for a new challenge.
“I had built up the performance level and participation numbers (at Ogilvie), but was ready to move to a bigger school and take on new challenges. We also decided to make the switch for family reasons,” Cook said.
Cook and his wife Julie (a math teacher herself) wanted to live in the same community that they taught. The couple – who met in college – also had a strong interest in teaching together in the same district.
“When we first graduated college it was important for us to be around the metro area. But as we’re getting older and starting to raise kids it isn’t nearly as important. My wife grew up in Wadena so we were getting closer to her family too,” hesaid.
With their three-year-old son Ryan and newborn Elliot at their side, the two found work and took residence in the Park Rapids area and haven’t looked back.
“So far everything has been really great. We were commuting from Wadena the first part of the school year and technically just moved to Park Rapids about three weeks ago. My wife is the new 6th grade math teacher for the middle school. On top of working together, I also really wanted to live in the community that I was teaching in. As visible as a band director is, that was an important aspect to me,” Cook said.
“Everyone in the school and all the other teachers have been really supportive and genuinely friendly and helpful. In the community, you can tell that there is a lot of community support. One thing that stood out to me in making the decision to move here was the fact that there was also a community band and opera in town. All of these music and arts opportunities that are right here imbedded in the culture of the community. It’s really neat. There are also a lot of opportunities for kids. You can tell that people here are used to working together and supporting each other. It feels like a good fit for a lot of reasons.”
Cook, who also composes music, doesn’t intend to make any drastic changes in his first year. However, he does have a couple of ideas in mind.
“I would like to see the participation level rise; the numbers have been down in the past and are starting to come back up. I would like to see that continue. I want to keep building,” Cook said.
“I would also really like to get small groups of students going out and playing in the community. When I was in middle school band every December we would play carols in small groups for local businesses. I want to make the jazz band strong again. I would also like to start a middle school jazz band if at all possible in the next couple weeks. I want to get students started sooner and build excitement for younger kids. I’m looking to create new and fun opportunities for kids, including maybe some travel.”
Although equipped with a lengthy resume bolstered with experience, Cook still believes there is always room to learn.
“I’m learning new things every day. The kids will surprise you. You come into the room feeling like an expert, but they’ll come in and surprise you with the ideas they come up with. And the passion they bring into it. A lot of times you come in and think you’re going to have to motivate and inspire them but they come in already with the drive to make music, they’re just looking for instruction,” Cook said.
“It’s important for students to work really hard at something and see how much fun it is to succeed.”
The high school band will have their next concert on Monday, Nov. 18 and the middle school band’s next concert will be Monday, Jan. 6.