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Is Extracurricular Extra, or Essential?

The following could be applied to many areas we sometimes call extracurricular. I consider these essential to students. Music was crucial to my experience in school. Music kept me engaged and taught many lessons I might have otherwise missed. Below is something I wrote twenty years ago for a Cooper’s Troopers Reunion Band. The thoughts still ring true for me today.

practice pad

When in the third grade, Mr. Warnock’s aunt gave him this practice pad for Christmas.

All I Ever Needed To Know, I Learned In the Band 

  1. I learned the importance of persistence:  Do we really have to play that spot again?
  2. I learned that self-esteem is developed by meeting challenges:  Mr. Cooper really believes we can play this piece?
  3. I learned you can do almost anything you’re passionate about if you try long and hard enough.  Yes, I just love practicing the 26 snare drum rudiments. Oh yes, scales are fun, too!
  4. I learned the importance of flexibility.  You want us there at what time?
  5. I learned to suspend judgment:  “You don’t know if you like this piece until you can play it!” – Mr. Cooper
  6. I learned the importance of showing up, no matter how you feel.
  7. I learned to be on time.  There is nothing like the “Cooper stare” if you run into formation late.
  8. I learned organizational skills.  What other class requires that a student show up on time with 27 separate uniform parts, music folder, clothespins, snacks, and at least two drum sticks (hopefully a matched pair).
  9. I learned to appreciate the great outdoors.  I have fond memories of those early morning winter marches on the parking lot.  I hear sound coming from my drum, but I can’t feel my hands.
  10.  I learned that success depends on how you use your time.  “The best bands are the bands that fix mistakes the quickest.”  – Mr. Cooper
  11. I learned to keep going no matter what.  I remember the roar of laughter in a Little Rock stadium after one file took a counter-march 20 yards early.  We just kept going and regrouped at the majorette feature tune. “Take real big steps and well get this back together,” several unidentified seniors were heard to say.
  12.  I learned that everybody’s part is important from the first trumpet solo down to the triangle part.  “Get it covered!” – Hal Cooper
  13. I learned that there is more than one way to hit a drum.  “Yes, I know those are marimba mallets and you’re playing timpani, but that’s the sound I want.” –  Mr. Cooper
  14.  I learned how to ad-lib.  “Forget what is written, drummers.  Just make it sound right.” – Hal Cooper
  15. I learned the importance of consistency.  “You’re not getting better because you make new mistakes every day.” –  Hal Cooper
  16. I learned the importance of a compliment, no matter how small.  The tension and suspense after a halftime show lifted completely when Mr. Cooper turned and simply said, “Good job.”
  17.  I learned to travel in varied accommodations.  Experienced travelers by school bus will do fine in any third world country.
  18.  I learned the importance of a group effort focused on a common goal.  “Take aim and push your sound all the way to the press box.” – Hal Cooper
  19. I learned that it’s OK to be a little arrogant as long as you don’t take yourself too seriously. We really were pretty awesome!
  20. I learned the power of music.  I’ll never forget the first time I heard the Symphonic Band open up on Eternal Father, Strong to Save, arranged by Claude T. Smith! Sounds can change even a drummer’s life.
  21. I learned that success feels good, and failure feels bad.  If you take success for granted, you’re heading for failure.  If you learn from your failures, success becomes a possibility.  I remember a split rating we had difficulty understanding. Mr. Cooper didn’t knock the judge, we just went back to work.  The next ratings were straight First Divisions all the way across.
  22.  I learned that while perfection might be the goal, you have to go with what you’ve got.  I’ve heard a lot of great imperfect performances. Mr. Cooper once remarked as we listened to a reel-to-reel performance tape, “It’s amazing that a bunch of kids playing noisemakers can make sounds that give you goosebumps.”

Thank you, Mr. Hal Cooper, for a lot of great memories and a few musical “goosebumps” along the way!  Written in 2000 by Jim Warnock, now principal at Alma Intermediate School, but still a compulsive drummer. 

Click below to hear the band.

Recording of Hal Cooper’s El Dorado High School Symphonic Band from around 1973 

The Long, Slow Arc of Justice

MLK book coverRosa Parks said, “The only tired I was, was tired of giving in,” when asked if she didn’t give up her seat because she was physically tired.

I was eight months old when Birmingham, AL, bus driver, James F. Blake, demanded that Rosa Parks give up her bus seat to a white man. I can’t find the name of the white man who boarded the bus and wasn’t given the seat by Rosa Parks, but think that it must have been sad for both of these men to live with that legacy.

Segregation in the schools was declared unconstitutional the year before I was born. I first shared a classroom with a black student in the sixth grade. Her name was Regina, and she drew my name for the Christmas party gift exchange. Funny what you remember.

I was playing drums in the sixth grade at a friend’s home close to West Woods Elementary in El Dorado, Arkansas, when I learned that Martin Luther King Jr. had been killed. I felt no emotion at all. I knew nothing of the man.

I never spoke of this to my classmate, Regina. I wish I could talk to her now. I’d ask her how it was that she was so brave in the sixth grade. I would ask her about what she felt when she learned that Martin Luther Kind had been killed.

Though I could rationalize that I was just a typical uninformed kid, I still feel sadness at my lack of emotion when I first heard of Dr. King’s death. The significance of his death and his work became more relevant throughout my life. His words have gained tremendous significance to me. Strength to Love became one of my favorite books and I referred to it often.

King said, “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” I thought today how long and slow that arc bends! In many ways, struggles for fairness and equity still continue today. In some ways, little progress has been made.

As I wrote this, I was reminded of a song lyric by Dan Fogelberg – “When faced with the past the strongest man cries.” I’m at least thankful that tears come into my eyes when confronted with our country’s continuing legacy of racism and discrimination. The arc of history needs to bend toward justice much faster! 

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