The Bombay heat scorched Don Cooper as he hustled into the Imperial Hotel. An imposing man dressed in white linen waited for him. The man was Professor Chatterjee, and he was about to tell Cooper his future. "You will be a sculptor," Cooper was told.
That was in 1983, and Cooper, now a music teacher at Samuel Staples Elementary School in Easton, was a touring musician. Twelve years later, he found himself creating stone walls using the same manual skills and spatial knowledge employed by sculptors. He soon remembered his Indian friend's prediction. "I never really dwelled on it," Cooper said. "I've had my palms read all over the world. ... This was such a different thing, it was just kind of out of nowhere."
In 1998, Cooper abandoned his trowel for a chalkboard. At Staples, his ability to sculpt young minds has inspired many of his students to pursue music careers. Samantha Price was a student of Cooper's who now travels the world as an independent musician. Chelsea Smith is a well-known violinist whom Cooper schooled, and Ilya Shapiro is making his way in the world of concert piano.
Musical talent came naturally to Cooper. He started playing guitar in elementary school and immediately began writing his own songs. He has toured the world, jammed with the elite songwriters of the 20th century, and raised two children with his wife of 40 years.
"The arts is of extreme value to human development and fulfillment over the long course of [one's] life," Cooper said. "[Staples] is a good place to get exposed to a lot more than what the commercial world is going to give them."
He also tries to instill the value of listening with his students. "We're living in a very noisy world, where a lot of it is very extraneous. ... It's very hard, I think, for this current generation to be focused listeners. ... It's a valuable life skill."
Did you have Mr. Cooper as a teacher? What are some of your memorable moments?
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