Holly Pond Bronco Band welcomes new director

Get to know Stephen Cook

Holly Pond Bronco Band Director Stephen Cook poses for a photo at the school Monday, Aug. 3, 2020. (Heather Mann for The Cullman Tribune)

HOLLY POND, Ala. – After three years under Evan Curtis, the Holly Pond Bronco Band welcomed a new director to the team just in time for band camp. Stephen Cook, a graduate of the University of North Alabama with a master’s degree from the University of Memphis, said the job offer came rather suddenly, but he looks forward to working with the students and building off the foundation that Curtis laid before him. To get to know a bit more about him and what the future of the band looks like, The Tribune sat down with Cook during the first day of band camp Monday.

When did you take the job with Holly Pond?

“I was offered the job on Monday this past week (July 27). It moved fairly quickly – I was offered the job, I took a day to pray about it and think about it, and I accepted it Tuesday morning. I was living in Florence at the time, and then I transitioned all the way to Cullman. I closed on an apartment on Friday, moved in on Saturday, and now I’m here. Luckily I’ve been very blessed to have things moving in a systematic way where I can be able to do this.”

What teaching experience have you had previously?

“This will be my first public school teaching job. I’ve taught in charter schools and private schools. I taught at Circle Rock Catalyst in Oak Park on the west side of Chicago, and before then I was in Memphis working on my Master’s in Trumpet Performance. I taught mostly college students at that time – that was part of my graduate assistance, teaching the freshmen as they came in. I also taught at local high schools, teaching trumpet lessons. While I was at UNA, I taught multiple band camps – Sparkman High School, Hueytown High School, Jasper, Florence, just all over.”

Will you build off of the performance the previous director set up or do something all your own?

“I have been very fortunate to be in contact with Mr. Curtis about most everything that’s going on. We spoke at length about the show he had planned, where he got the students to before the COVID outbreak, and everything he’s informed me of has been very helpful. I’m trying not to be too overbearing by asking him a lot of questions, but he’s been very helpful with transitioning me through this process. I could not have done any of the stuff I’m doing now without him, and he did a great job setting things up. The three years he was here, he spent a lot of time building the program, making musical literacy an important thing, and cultivating a good culture in this band, and the students really show it, too.”

What’s planned for this season’s marching performance?

“Our show’s gonna be titled ‘Road Trip,’ and we’re doing three tunes. We’ve got ‘Mustang Sally’ as our opener, our middle tune is a ‘Cars ‘medley – it’s got a medley of songs from the Disney movie ‘Cars’ like ‘Life is a Highway’ – and then we’re finishing our show with ‘Soak up the Sun.’ It’s just a feel-good show.”

Any plans for marching competitions?

“That’s still up in the air right now. I think in general we don’t know how we’re gonna handle it with the volume of people that are close in one area. I’ve heard a bunch of different options we could do, but nothing has been laid down affirmatively. We’re gonna prepare and we’re gonna have an entertaining show for football, but we’re definitely going to prepare for everything that we can.”

What else will you be doing at the school when not directing the band?

“I’m part of the ACCESS staff. I think there’s one or two online ACCESS courses I’m gonna be doing, in addition to the sixth-grade beginner band and our combined 7-12 high school band.”

What other performances will the band be doing during the year?

“The first one on our radar is our Parent Performance that we’ll be doing the last Friday of band camp, which I believe is the 14th, at 4. It’s a big opportunity for people in the community to come out and support us for all the hard work we’ve been doing and to get involved. I’d also like to do all the usual concerts. Our fifth-grade concert is our biggest recruitment, and our biggest ambassadors to them are our sixth graders – they’re closest in age and experience, and it’s a great opportunity to showcase what it’s like being in music while it’s fresh.”

Is there anything you’re looking forward to bringing to the band?

“Right now, I just want to bring a positive outlook on learning music as an art. I want to bring to the table a strong literacy and get away from rote teaching. Mr. Curtis did a good job of getting a lot of the students from writing notes in to actually being autonomous and reading their own part. That’s the biggest hope I have because if we’re going to progress, it’s gonna come from that and how the students can practice at home and feel comfortable about doing that and confident in what they’re doing.”

Anything else you want to say to the community?

“I guess the one thing I can say is what I said to the students this morning: this is a time where there’s a lot of things that are unsure, but what you can be sure of is that we’ll be here working, and we’ll be here supporting our community. Anything you can do to come out and support us is much appreciated, especially the band parents coming out and not just thinking about this year or next year, but thinking about what kind of program they want to have five or 10 years in the future.”

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Heather Mann