Five questions with Britt Cooper, Walsh University choral professor
Britt Cooper was always involved in music as a child, taking piano lessons and singing in choirs.
While singing at Lake High School, he was given an opportunity by his director Marisa DiCesare to teach and conduct a piece on a Christmas concert. The experience hooked him — from that point on, he generally knew that he wanted to make music in collaboration with groups of singers.
Today, Cooper is the professor of choral music and coordinator of visual and performing arts at Walsh University in North Canton. He lives in Lake Township with his wife, Heather and his two children: Megan, 11, and Mark, 8.
“I am a proud product of Lake Local Schools but moved just prior to graduation (my father worked for Goodyear),” Cooper said. “I graduated from Lakeside High School in Evans, Georgia. I have a doctorate in choral conducting from the University of South Carolina, a master’s in choral conducting from the University of Alabama, and a bachelor’s in vocal performance from Augusta University in Augusta, Georgia.
“My wife, Heather, is a well-known musician and educator in Northeast Ohio. She leads the performance choir of the Summit Choral Society in Akron, serves as director of music and organist at Christ Presbyterian Church in Canton, and will be featured at the organ in a Canton Symphony Orchestra Masterworks concert this April.”
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Share what you teach/direct at Walsh University.
I have been at Walsh University for 17 years and have taught almost every music class we offer, from theory and history courses to surveys in classical music, jazz, and rock music.
My primary role, however, is director of the choral ensembles. The flagship ensemble of the school is the Walsh University Chorale, which consists of students from across all academic disciplines.
From the group, we audition a more select ensemble we call the Chamber Singers. In addition to performing for multiple events across campus, the Chamber Singers are a touring ensemble. They engage in domestic tours to such places as New York, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Washington, DC, and on three occasions we have traveled to Italy. Performance highlights have included singing for Mass at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi and at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.
Walsh University has been a wonderful and nurturing home for me to grow as a teacher and a musician. Most of what we offer musically has been built and fostered during my 17 years there, so I am infinitely grateful for administrations who have supported those endeavors so generously.
What other choruses do you direct in addition to those at Walsh University?
For 10 years, I was honored to direct the Canton Symphony Chorus, collaborating in performances with the orchestra under the remarkable direction of Gerhardt Zimmerman. I reluctantly decided to give up that post this past year, mostly out of deference to the growing schedules of my two busy children!
I serve as director of the Chancel Choir at Christ Presbyterian Church in Canton, working in collaboration with my wife, Heather, who serves as organist and director of the music ministry. We both consider ourselves fortunate to be a part of that worshipful and musical family. Anyone seeking thoughtful, engaging worship should consider joining us for a Sunday morning downtown.
For the last four years, I have also worked with the Metropolitan Chorus, an adult choir associated with the Summit Choral Society of Akron. Each year, I have served as featured conductor for its Christmas Candlelight Concerts, one of the real musical highlights of the holiday season in Akron.
Are you drawn to a particular type of music for your groups and if so, why?
The nature of my responsibilities leads me primarily to sacred music, and while most of it would be characterized as traditional, we certainly try to provide a wealth of musical experiences for singers including spirituals, gospel, jazz, and world music.
We have given concerts at Walsh in which we sing in five or six languages, and we have also led music for interfaith gatherings, as well.
I love creating music with as many people as possible, and thus the holiday season makes a fine time to engage audience participation. Familiar carols are incorporated into all of those performances to make the experience as inclusive and engaging as possible.
Having been raised in Stark County, what are some of the attributes that convinced you to continue to live and work in the county?
When it came time to find a place to teach after my doctorate, serendipity landed me back in Stark County.
I had several interviews across the eastern half of the country, but Walsh turned out to be the best fit. I chose to plant roots and stay here because the people are warm, even when the weather is not. I love the small communities of Uniontown and Hartville; they have made wonderful places to raise children.
And while we live in a rural town, we are but a short drive from either Severance Hall to hear the Cleveland Orchestra or the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame — two of my favorite places in the world.
One for fun: If you could have a song play every time you entered a classroom, what would it be?
First of all, I wouldn’t have the song playing when I entered — I’d play and sing it myself!
Billy Joel was my musical hero growing up, and I won a talent show in high school playing and singing “Piano Man,” but I would prefer a more uplifting feeling. His “River of Dreams” is a better fit; it’s inspiring, and whenever he plays it live, he weaves another classic rock song from one of his heroes in the middle.
So I’d do the same to keep it fresh and fun!
Editor’s note: Five questions with … is a Sunday feature that showcases a member of the Stark County community. If you would like to recommend someone to participate, send an email to [email protected]