A Sherwood Park vocal coach is reflecting on a remarkable career.
Jack Cooper grew up in Tillsonburg, Ontario, which was then home to a rich tobacco farming industry. His family around this time were relatively poor; as children, he and his brother, Jan, would often help out on local farms in exchange for a few bucks. Sometimes the farmers' wives would make them a meal.
He developed a passion for sports and, most notably, music very early on as they were two activities where it didn't matter how much money your family had.
"In those days, if you wanted to be in sports or even music, it didn't cost anything. Your recreation department would even give you equipment to play in sports," Cooper explained. "The same thing with music, it hardly cost my parents anything for music. But it was at a time when you could be poor and still have things the wealthier kids have."
He fell in love with Northern Canada early on after reading a book on the North; as a child, he would venture outdoors in the middle of winter to prove to his parents he could handle living in the cold, Arctic weather of the North.
As he got older, he took up a career in teaching and left with his wife and kids for the North.
"We were a new breed that came up. We didn't just come up to make money for one year. We came up to try and really work with the kids,"
Cooper had an idea to bring music to the classrooms in a small classroom in Nunavut, which was still the Northwest Territories. They wound up doing musical theatre, which turned out to be a massive hit with the kids and a first for the territory.
A federal minister caught wind of the musical program taking off in the territory and awarded Cooper the Lescarbot Award for contributing to cultural activities in the community.
He explained that he feels a profound connection with Indigenous people in Canada. Because of that and his years working with children in remote communities, he joined forces with his brother to form Cooper Studios and provide pop-music workshops for Indigenous children.
"The government of the Northwest Territories had us coming up for about six years, and we were going into schools as small as Jean Marie River, which had nine students of different ages and grades,"
Once he retired from teaching, Cooper came to Sherwood Park, where the brothers began doing music workshops in treaty schools. He explained his workshops incorporate lots of popular pop music and well-known and easily accessible songs to keep things enjoyable.
"We've also involved elders in helping us translate certain parts of modern songs to Cree or whichever Indigenous language, and also tried to involve traditional drums and dancing with the kids to show that it could be used with modern music, but also keep alive what their people have done for ages."
Due to the nature of working with remote communities, Cooper was already well-versed in providing lessons virtually, which has kept them busy throughout COVID-19. Currently, they're working with a school near High Prairie and a group of Indigenous children out of Surrey.
Cooper's goal with each student that comes through the studio is just to have fun; he enjoys seeing kids improve their confidence and how to express their emotions through music. For those looking to move up in the entertainment world, his job is to get them out there for the world to hear.
Cooper Studios isn't just for children, however. Cooper's brother, Jan, has worked with big names such as Loverboy and Whitesnake. Anyone of any age who has ever thought about becoming a singer is welcome to contact the studio and try their hand at it.
More about Cooper Studios, as well as some of their current students, are featured here.