Elk Lake band director passes the baton

Kathleen Amabile, Junior High Band Director, and Dave Cooper, Senior High Band Director, after the Junior High Band Concert May 7 at Elk Lake.

Kathleen Amabile, Junior High Band Director, and Dave Cooper, Senior High Band Director, after the Junior High Band Concert May 7 at Elk Lake.

BY PAT FARNELLI

After 40 years of directing, teaching and arranging music, Dave Cooper, the band and chorus director at Elk Lake High School has decided it is time to retire.

His announcement of his retirement at the Elk Lake High School band and chorus concert April 30 marks the end of an era. Many parents who attended the concert and the following reception in the hall outside the auditorium said that Cooper had been their band director years ago.

Barbara Holbert, who retired as choral director last June, and Cathy Rezykowski, retired elementary and junior high band director, praised Cooper’s skills in planning a concert and introducing new music to high school students.

“He really loves teaching,” Holbert said. “He enjoys helping develop students as musicians.”

“Everyone looked forward to playing his special arrangements of ‘The Little Drummer Boy,’” Rezykowski said. “He changed his arrangement of “Drummer Boy” for Christmas concerts to feature talented students as soloists, so it was different each time it was played.”

 Dave Cooper plays the tympani during the Junior High Band Concert on May 7 at Elk Lake.

Dave Cooper plays the tympani during the Junior High Band Concert on May 7 at Elk Lake.

Rezykowski said that Cooper was very knowledgeable about music, and added music theory classes to the curriculum. He especially enjoyed doing his own arranging for concerts.

She said that when Cooper came to Elk Lake, he took on the high school concert and marching bands, and soon began pulling together pit bands for high school musicals, as well as smaller performance groups such as jazz band.

“He is a drummer, a percussionist, but he is a capable teacher of all of the other instruments,” she said.

Cooper came to Elk Lake from the Wilkes-Barre area, and that he had worked at Nanticoke High School with the concert and marching bands before coming to Elk Lake.

After Holbert’s retirement at the end of last year, Cooper took over the high school chorus as well.

“Congratulations to all the members of the Elk Lake Concert Band and Chorus for a truly fine performance tonight,” Cooper said at the end of the concert. “You made me proud beyond words. I couldn’t think of a better way to end my 40 years of being a music teacher. I will miss you all.”

A week later, Cooper played the tympani and a drum set during the Junior High band concert, conducted by Kathleen Amabile, who will take on the senior high band director position at the end of the school year.

After recounting highlights of his career, Amabile thanked Cooper for his invaluable mentorship during her first teaching experience, and his assistance in planning concerts and arranging material.

The graduating band seniors presented Cooper with a bag of gifts that seemed to be on a railroad theme, including a conductor hat and a train whistle.

Cooper plans to spend more time in pursuit of interests such as railroad history. He sings and plays keyboards for the popular A.M. Radio band at local venues, events and fairs.

“I consider myself so fortunate to have been able to work with so many wonderful students over the years,” he concluded.

“I will never doubt that I had one of the greatest jobs in the world. I have taught at quite a few schools, but there isn’t a better school than Elk Lake. There are no better kids than these kids.”

He will conduct the high school students for the last time at the 2014 commencement exercises in June. Meanwhile, Amabile is organizing the marching band for the summer’s parade season.

Dr. Ken Cuomo, Elk Lake high school principal for much of Cooper’s tenure, said, “Mr. Cooper always kept music fun for kids, and had a willingness to participate with them in plays and concerts and other activities. He always tried to keep the (performance selections) current and had a great sense of humor.”