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W.Va. music professor indulges his love for jazz

March 23, 2013|By COURTNEY BRADFORD | Special to The Herald-Mail
  • Mark Andrew Cook is director of music theory and composition at Shepherd University. He is also a composer an an accomplished jazz musician.
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SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. — For Mark Andrew Cook, music is more than notes on a page.

"With music, it's all about the journey and the learning experience," said Cook, 57, director of music theory and composition at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown. 

And for Cook, his journey in music started in elementary school.

Back then and his friends would get together and play rock music in a band. But his official music career started in his middle school days as a trumpet player for the school band. His band director was his inspiration to pursue music.

"He was just one of the sweetest guys I've ever known," Cook said.

For Cook, pursuing a career in music was more of a compulsion than anything.

"It was serendipity," he said. "You are called to do this."

 As a musician Cook compared his two styles as night and day.

"You have the classical side to me (the day side), and then you have the jazz side of me (the night side)," he said.

Cook has composed numerous pieces for the piano and other instruments, and some have garnered him awards. Last month, Cook won the Director's Choice Award in the Art Song Category from the Boston Metro Opera's 2013 composition competition.

"Basically, my composition of 'Waking' was chosen by the director himself as one of his favorites," Cook said.

"Waking" will be set to poems of Shepherd's Appalachian Heritage Writer in Residence Ron Rash and be queued for performance as part of Boston Metropolitan Opera's regular season.

On the "dark side," Cook indulges in jazz music. He is a member of the jazz faculty at Shepherd University and also plays with a few other musicians such as Kurtis Adams, a tenor saxophonist who is director of Jazz Studies at Shepherd.

Cook has had the opportunity to perform at Blues Alley in Georgetown, Washington, D.C.

"Blues Alley is like the Carnegie Hall for jazz musicians," Cook said.

He also performs with "The White House Band" led by David Detwiler.

"This group is so much fun to perform with, but you have to be on your A-game at all times," Cook said. "There's no room for slacking."

 As a composer, Cook has been at it for just about all of his life.

 "I started as a teenager, although it was very juvenile work. I actually burned all of my compositions from my teenage years quite a while ago," he said with a laugh.

But as he matured, so did his music.

 In 2010 his Sonata for Piano, "The Changeling" was selected for performance at the College Music Society Mid-Atlantic Region Conference.

In December 2011 Cook was selected as a finalist, out of 210 international submissions, in the Master Composer Category for the International Music Prizes in Compositions.

Although Cook has earned success in music, he'd rather talk about the music instead of himself.

"I don't like talking about myself," he said. "When I receive these awards, it means more to me that I'm taken seriously as a composer."

Cook has managed to make his mark in the music world when so many have tried and failed. His key to success in music is to learn everything and not to waste a single moment.

"For me, I'm just glad I get to do something I love every day, and that is what I believe everyone should strive for," he said.



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