Music teacher retires after 11 years at KGE; plans to focus on own composing

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Katherine Gallegos Elementary school lost a very talented music teacher when James Cooper retired Sept. 1.

Deborah Fox-News-Bulletin: Photo Classical guitarist and composer James Cooper has retired after serving the Los Lunas School District for 11 years.

Cooper is a classical guitarist who is also a proliferate composer. He has won a number of composition contests including second place in the Santa Fe Community Orchestra composer competition.

His winning musical piece, “Desert Journey,” has been played by the orchestra on several occasions.

The Santa Fe Community Orchestra has also played a set of Cooper’s short orchestral pieces he calls, “Dream Sketches,” that he had been working on for an opera.

“They were short pieces of a variety of moods,” Cooper said.

In 2005, at the request of town officials and residents, he composed a music piece for Jemez Springs’ 50th year incorporation celebration titled, “Coming of the New Light Jemez.”

A year later, he performed the piece at a formal Belen concert, and has performed in many classical guitar concerts.

Cooper earned his bachelor’s in music education and master’s degree in music composition from Temple University in Philadelphia.

He taught guitar for 20 years in Pennsylvania, 10 of which were at the prestigious Settlement Music School in Philadelphia.

He has been an adjunct professor at the University of New Mexico, and has taught in the Los Lunas Schools District for 11 years.

His greatest satisfaction as a teacher has been watching his students go out and perform.

Some of the performances have been outside of the school in district-wide events.

“I just loved it when I took kids and saw them perform along with kids from other schools,” he said.

Two years ago, the elementary school began having musical performances at the beginning of every assembly.

“When a class or a group of kids got chosen to be the performers at that assembly, they became very proud of themselves, and really wanted to do their best,” Cooper said. “I could just see them enjoying that, when they got the chance to perform in front of the other students, and some of their parents would come.”

Like most teachers, Cooper took a special delight in seeing the light bulb of comprehension when a student tackled a concept and finally “got it.”

“I just had third graders in here and we were doing rhythms,” he said. “I could see that they were understanding those rhythms, because they could say them back with rhythmic speech.”

As his students progressed under his tutelage, by sixth grade they could join band. Even though Cooper doesn’t teach band, it pleased him to see the students who chose to continue in music with Henry Estrada, the band instructor.

“It’s still very gratifying to see that these kids have developed enough interest in music over these years, that I see them excited to get band instruments,” Cooper said. “That means a lot to me. It’s building on the years I’ve had them.”

Cooper was one of the organizers and administrators of District 6 New Mexico Music Educators Association, and participated in singing and music activities with as many as 150 students from around the region.

He sees education budget cut backs that eliminate art and music as detrimental to a well-rounded education.

“It gets them to a whole different kind of thinking than they’re doing in the classroom,” Cooper said. “I think it helps their brain and is well worth the investment in time to have them in here … a higher number of art and music students go on to college.”

Cooper’s wife, Susanna, is a retired school counselor with the Los Lunas Schools District. She retired three and a half years ago, and Cooper is happy to join her in retirement.

The couple have planned a trip to Ireland to take in the local music flavors and visit sacred sights, Cooper said.

He is also looking forward to having the time to spend writing his own music, as well as doing more traveling, and he will continue his volunteer work at Family Promise in Albuquerque, and other social services with his church.


-- Email the author at dfox@news-bulletin.com.