11 months ago
ASMSA graduate Brittany Cooper traveled 16 hours with a cat in her car to come home to Arkansas. The 2005 graduate is working on her master’s degree at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and was selected to serve as an apprentice at the Hot Springs Music Festival, June 3-16.
She decided to make the most of the trip and will be home for a month visiting her family in Clarksville and her boyfriend Eddie D’Orsay, also an ASMSA graduate who lives in Hot Springs.
While at the music festival, Brittany is living in a dorm room in the old hospital building that serves as the ASMSA residence hall. “It still has the same smells and the same sounds, but it feels like home.”
Her room has a view of the new Student Center, which students will move into when school starts in August. She says the new building is beautiful, but she wouldn’t change anything about her experience at ASMSA.
So how did a girl who plays the French horn and grew up on a farm in Jasper end up at a school recognized nationally for its science and math curriculum?
Before coming to ASMSA, Brittany was breezing through her classes. “It was easy to get an A, and I wanted to do something challenging,” she said. So she began playing the French horn. “The French horn is definitely a challenge.”
She spent her lunch break practicing. It was also a good way to get out of chores. She would tell her parents she needed to practice while her brothers were out working on the farm.
When her parents encouraged her to apply to ASMSA, she said other parents would ask them how they could let her move away. Their reply was, “We’re giving her an opportunity to grow and be a better person.”
And Brittany did grow. “It was a real eye-opener,” she said. She particularly remembers her senior year being a new beginning for her.
“My senior year flipped the switch,” she said. “I was a different person, a person I like better.”
She enjoyed the diversity of the school. “I met people I never would have met at home in Jasper,” she said. “It made me a more open-minded person.”
She also credits the school for giving her educational opportunities she otherwise probably never would have experienced.
“I wanted to go to college,” she said. “Getting an education is the most important thing in the world.”
She says without the preparation she got at ASMSA, she never would have gotten into Vanderbilt University. She graduated from the Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt in 2009 with a double major in French horn performance and anthropology. She has one more semester at the University of Michigan to complete her master’s in horn performance.
Music is her passion
In addition to going to school, getting in at least three hours of required practice each day, and playing in a friend’s band, she works as a waitress to help pay for her education. She spends her spare time hanging out with friends.
Brittany says she likes all types of music, and like many high school band students she grew up playing classical music. So, when it’s time to unwind or listen to music for fun, she usually chooses something other than classical.
“Now I’m doing a little more branching out,” she said. Her teacher at Michigan is a jazz French horn player. A friend who is a singer and songwriter invited her to join his band. “So I’ve been playing at bars, which is a little weird to see someone play a French horn in a bar.”
Once she finishes school, she would like to land an orchestra job, but knows that like many musicians she might need to find another job to help pay the bills. “Any way I can make a living doing what I love.” She said she knows people who teach music or work as musician librarians in addition to performing.
“Music has always been my passion – the emotional connection with it,” she said. “I always want music to be a part of my life. I’d love to play for the rest of my life. There’s no way I can not do it.”
Medical problems with her jaw and wearing braces prevented Brittany from playing for about a year and a half. She just began playing again last October. “I feel I lost a sense of myself when I wasn’t playing,” she said.
Music Festival Apprentice
Brittany worked as a production assistant at the Hot Springs Music Festival in 2005 and returned in 2009. ASMSA Band Director Mary Alice Chambers says Brittany is the first ASMSA band student to qualify for an apprenticeship at the festival, which draws musicians from around the country.
Brittany has spent a lot of time in rehearsals the last two weeks. “I performed in five back-to-back concerts.”
She says it’s hard to stay motivated in the summer without her teacher encouraging her, so she likes coming to the festival.
“You have to keep your chops in shape,” she said. “It’s kind of like musician boot camp.”
One thing she has really enjoyed about this year’s music festival is the hands-on experience for the audience members.
She described one rehearsal session where the audience members sat in the orchestra with the performers.
“It let them experience the rehearsal process, watch the conductor, and see how everything comes together.”
The festival also featured a progressive concert on Bathhouse Row with the audience walking from bathhouse to bathhouse listening to different groups perform.
“It’s getting the music out to people in a way they can relate to it,” she said. “I think that’s important. That’s what we need to stay alive.”
Looking back at her time at ASMSA, Brittany remembers the “horrors” of being in classes that challenged her and really having to work. Those A’s weren’t so easy to get anymore.
“But, it’s the people I remember most. I can’t think about this place without thinking about my teachers and the friends I made. I still love these people.”
She still keeps in touch with ASMSA classmates and her boyfriend is a 2006 graduate. Her brothers Tristan and Forest graduated from ASMSA in 2008 and 2010, respectively.
She remembers on her first day at Vanderbilt, other freshman students, and their parents, were crying as the parents prepared to leave.
“It was not culture shock in any way for me, it was just normal,” she said.
She offers the following advice to current ASMSA students: “Study, but make sure you live a well-balanced life too.”
She says she sees many musicians who don’t take the time to pursue other hobbies or who maybe lack social skills to communicate with others.
“If you can’t interact with people or have other hobbies, you’ll never be able to make it in the world,” she said.
While at ASMSA, in addition to playing in the school and community bands, she participated in several clubs.
“It was a blast,” she said. “I didn’t have time to breathe; I didn’t have time to get in trouble.”