It seems fitting that the word “cool” is in Kevin Cooley’s name. He is constantly coming up with ideas to grow and improve the music program at Platteville High School. One creative concept that he introduced to students is to “fail harder.” Cooley explained that one of his former teachers used that mantra during a concert cycle and it stuck with him. “Failure is such an important step in learning, but we tend to shy away from it, which ironically leads to more failure,” he said.
Another concept he adapted from his undergraduate studies is “ensembleship,” which is understanding what a musician’s job is in the ensemble. Cooley explained, “I teach my kids to focus on four questions: 1) What is my job? 2) What is my section’s job? 3) What is the ensemble’s job? 4) How do these jobs relate?"
Jazz is a key part of Cooley’s music program. Under his tenure, Platteville's jazz program has grown and now consists of two full jazz bands and an annual jazz night fundraiser. The jazz bands regularly traveled to jazz festivals prior to the pandemic, and Cooley invites jazz clinicians to his classes. “Jazz offers a more authentic opportunity to explore the creative process for a modern musician,” Cooley said. “Improvising, reading lead sheets, attempting to recreate a specific sound and learning how to communicate with your group verbally and non-verbally are critical skills for students who want to continue their musical pursuits in a less academic setting after high school.”
In one of his “40 Under 40” nomination letters, a colleague wrote, “Kevin’s energy and ideas are contagious! From directing the musical pit, to starting a department-wide jazz fundraiser, to securing several grants to build a digital music lab and recording studio, Kevin has been the engine behind the ideas.”