BERLIN – It had been nine years since Emily Cook had last played on the stage at Berlin Intermediate School and she sat head-and-shoulders about the other musicians. Cook played the BIS Spring Orchestra concert on May 30 with the same focus she dedicates to any performance.
While Cook, a classical violinist, is principal second violin in the symphony orchestra at Towson University, she tested out her skills as a conductor with the BIS orchestra.
Before the end of the concert, Lisa Adams, the BIS Orchestra director, handed the podium over to Cook, who conducted the beginning and advanced orchestra classes in a piece entitled, “A Brief History of Music.”
As a rising senior at Towson University studying Music Education, Cook jumped at the opportunity to conduct Adams’ orchestra students.
“The experience in general was absolutely amazing because I don’t think there are that many people [in my program] who can say that they’ve done that before being a senior. It kind of gave me a one-up,” Cook said.
Cook first began working with Adams and her students in January 2019 while home on winter break.
“She really wanted me to take the wheel and just start,” Cook said.
During the winter, Cook began practicing “A Brief History of Music” with Adams’ orchestra classes.
“I enjoyed teaching that piece because I’ve taken so many music history classes at Towson. It was really fun because every day we played a new tune from that piece. I gave them a mini-history lesson on that section,” Cook said. “If you’re just playing the notes then you’re just playing the notes, but for them to play the notes with that intent and knowing why, it just brings it out and you don’t even really even realize it but these things just automatically enhance your playing.”
Cook assisted Adams in the orchestra, general music and guitar classes. Adams helped Cook gain practical experience teaching younger students about music.
“It’s fun to see a former student learning their craft,” Adams said. “When you’re still in the classroom, it all looks really easy, but from a teacher perspective, there’s a lot going on.”
The BIS Spring Orchestra Concert was Cook’s first experience conducting outside of the classroom.
“I remember at the end of the piece there was a moment when I was switching between all those time signatures and it just hit me, like, ‘Wow, I’m going to do this for the rest of my life, and it made me really happy,’” Cook said.
Cook first began playing the violin in Adams’ class. In 2008, Cook was one of the BIS orchestra program’s inaugural students. Even as a fifth grader practicing a brand-new instrument, Cook displayed promise.
“One day, I remember, (Adams) walked me out and waited for my mom to get there, and she talked to her in her car, like, ‘I really think your daughter has potential and is really promising. I really think you should get her lessons,’” Cook said.
Cook continued to practice the violin with her private instructor Richard Leavitt in Salisbury in addition to regular school orchestra classes.
“I took orchestra all four years of high school and I really loved it. It was a great place for me to express myself and have fun with my other music loving peers,” Cook said.
Cook credits her early music teachers with first piquing her interest in music education but says that she first considered music education as a career after taking a Music Theory class with J.D. Foell, the Stephen Decatur High School Orchestra and Band director.
“He took it seriously, but he didn’t make music a chore. It was something you should have fun with, and I really took that to heart,” Cook said. “I just knew music as something that I played. And then looking at music theory I was like, ‘Wow, there is so much more to how music is built up and reasons why chords are constructed in certain ways.’ It just sparked a new interest in me.”
After graduating, Cook enrolled in the Towson University Department of Music and continued to study violin under Dr. Emmanuel Borowsky. Borowsky, a classical violinist and adjunct instructor at Towson University, holds a Doctorate of Musical Arts from the University of Maryland and has toured nearly 40 countries.
“I can’t think of anything more difficult to pursue than classical violin,” Borowsky said. “You could easily spend 10 years and not even be close. It’s a long process and she has that drive to pursue it and continually improve.”
Borowsky commented on Cook’s consistency and discipline as a student as well as her dedication to music.
“The enthusiasm that she has is a really important factor for how she’s going to inspire her students,” Borowsky said.
“He’s just been absolutely amazing to have as a teacher and he’s opened so many perspectives that I’d never considered before,” Cook said. “There’s not one formula on how to play the violin. There’s not one equation that is going to get the right answer.”
Cook emphasized that freedom and flexibility is crucial in teaching music.
“One of the main things I’ve learned is that students need to enjoy themselves,” Cook said. “If they seem anxious or seem nervous, you should never make them feel that way. You always have to make sure they feel comfortable playing and I’m all about creating a safe learning environment. The way I want to be as a teacher has been shaped by my past teachers.”