Band Director Christopher Cook has built the North Brunswick High School Marching Band into a nationally recognized program in which the students have fun learning.
Christopher Cook knows that when it comes to kids and learning, having fun matters. As the North Brunswick High School band director, Cook has spent the past seven years engaging his students while leading the marching band to national recognition. By promoting an environment of fervent school spirit using a mixture of both modern and traditional techniques, Cook’s own passion for North Brunswick High’s music program comes through in every beat.
Growing up in Michigan, Cook spent his own high school marching band years surrounded by a Big Ten college football atmosphere. After graduating from Hampton University in Virginia and spending several years teaching middle school outside of Fayetteville, North Carolina, Cook made his way to Brunswick County in 2012.
“When I started, North Brunswick had a Corps-style band program, so the type of band I studied under was different than what my students were used to,” Cook says. “I was a new teacher trying to learn the ropes, but I also wanted to introduce them to the Big Ten college football marching band culture that I grew up with.”
Cook says that with a Corps-style band (based on Drum Corp International), the style is very competitive and technical. He realized that although his students were talented and technically skilled, keeping them engaged and invested in band proved challenging.
“The issue I was running into was student retention,” he says. “The Corps style just didn’t pique the interest of the students that we serve here on this side of Brunswick County. I knew that what I had to do was come up with different routines that would increase their excitement about doing marching and half-time shows and that would also get their classmates involved and excited from the sidelines.”
By incorporating more popular music in his marching routines, Cook finds he’s able to increase the enthusiasm of his band members, the cheerleaders and the school’s dance team, who perform along the sidelines during football games. Fans in the stands get into the spirit of the game, and parents can relate to some of the more classic music that Cook utilizes, such as this year’s Stevie Wonder tribute show. A current student favorite is the Summer Pop show, during which the band performs all the hits from the past summer.
“Kids are more likely to learn something if they enjoy it, so if it’s a popular tune they like, and the tune has everything I need to teach them in a standard music lesson, it’s a win-win for all of us,” Cook says. “These kids are learning how to read music, how to read syncopation, how to get involved with music theory and jazz studies. I get the instruction for the students that I need, and they get the reward of listening to themselves playing their favorite tune.”
Their hard work has paid off, and this past summer (2019) the North Brunswick High School marching band was chosen to play in the National Independence Day Parade in Washington, D.C. With the support of local businesses, community donations and fundraisers, such as a children’s summer music camp, the band made a three-day trip over the Fourth of July holiday to represent the state of North Carolina in the parade.
“This was so important to us, that our community came together to send us to D.C. immediately after Hurricane Florence,” Cook says. “Our students and parents were afraid we wouldn’t be able to go, but that says a lot about our community and what we think about our students. Despite all the tragedy, we still wanted to do something special for our kids.”
This year the band is giving back to the community, with performances scheduled for the Veterans Day Parade, Leland Founders Day and a food truck rodeo later this fall. Cook’s goal is for his students to one day perform at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. For now, though, he is content to watch both the school’s band program and his students continue to grow and flourish.
“It’s really special knowing that the students who come out of here are very active members of society,” Cook says. “I’ve had a few who’ve gone on to be music teachers, and for the others, wherever they go to work, they’ll know about teamwork, responsibility, leadership and dedication. I tell the kids all the time that even if they don’t decide to do music, whatever they learn here in band, they’re going to take it with them for the rest of their lives.”