Summit Right Brain: Mark Koob teaches 180 Summit middle schoolers how to play instruments
Mark Koob is an outdoor adventure enthusiast, which might be one of the reasons he thrives taking on the challenge of teaching more than 180 students how to play different musical instruments.
As someone who first learned to play an instrument in middle school himself, he started what would turn out to be a lifelong career with the trumpet. Every year after that, he picked up a new instrument to learn and can now play pretty much anything. As a senior in high school, on a whim he auditioned at a music festival and was offered a full college scholarship, where he studied music education and pre-med.
After deciding not to pursue a medical degree, he primarily focused his efforts on the tuba and brass and received his master’s degree in tuba performance from University of Northern Colorado in Greeley.
He spent a summer interning with the All-American College Band at Disneyland playing the tuba, but, as an avid outdoorsman, he quickly grew tired of living in Los Angeles and riding the same 50-mile route on his road bike every single day. Koob, who grew up in Idaho, started applying for teaching jobs elsewhere, and an offer from Summit County gave him to opportunity to have the lifestyle he desired. He skied more than 130 days this winter, mainly touring and ski mountaineer racing, and is one of those athletes who will ski Quandary and then go for a trail run all in the same day.
Although he now focuses on educating youth, he also plays with the Greeley Philharmonic as well as the Summit Concert Band and Summit Community Orchestra.
This will be the end of his sixth school year as band teacher for Summit Middle School, and a concert on Wednesday, May 18 will showcase the culmination of hard work the students have put in during his classes. The show will begin at 6 p.m. at the Summit Middle School auditorium.
Summit Daily News: How did you go from playing instruments to teaching them?
Mark Koob: Originally in college, I was doing a performance degree and a pre-med degree, and then they talked me out of the performance and to do an education. I started doing that, and I like it … I’ve always liked teaching and educating people, and that’s kind of what drew me more into being a music educator rather than a performer.
SDN: What inspires you when it comes to music?
MK: It’s really pretty cool when the sixth-graders come into school, and they don’t know how to play an instrument. Being able to share — I love music, I love playing music and teaching music and just being able to share the passion of music with them. And then at the end of the year, like the concert on Wednesday, less than a year ago, they didn’t know how to even hold their instruments let alone play it. The growth that I can see in each grade level, every grade shows that, it’s kind of cool this upcoming concert I have a combined sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade band for one piece, so there is going to be over 180 students on-stage all at one time playing. … The concert will show how much the sixth-graders have progressed, how much the eighth-graders progress and then a huge combined piece with all three grades playing different parts but playing all at the same time. It’s super rewarding … there is so many people I meet nowadays (who) are like, ‘Oh, I wish I would have learned an instrument but I never did,’ or ‘I learned an instrument and wish I would have never quit,’ or ‘I learned an instrument, and it’s super beneficial, and I still pick it up occasionally.’ It’s not like some elective … there is a little bit more to it. There’s a lot of research out there for how music affects brain growth, and I think it’s just amazing how good music is developmentally for your brain playing an instrument.
SDN: What do you think is the hardest part about teaching?
MK: Getting kids to practice. I get it, it’s like ski season; I struggle to practice if I’m out skiing or biking or running. Kids are super busy with homework and everything, but it’s the limiting factor for how far we can grow — how much time kids put in outside of school.
SDN: What is the most rewarding part about teaching?
MK: Music is a different language, and they are developing a skill set they’ll be able to apply in different areas of their life. Seeing the growth that students can have from sixth grade and all the way up through eighth grade is pretty rewarding.
SDN: What can people expect out of the concert Wednesday?
MK: Our jazz band will be playing a couple songs, a couple songs people will recognize. … Then our seventh grade is playing a couple of pieces, sixth grade is playing a piece, eighth grade is playing a couple of pieces and then we have our big combined mass band of 180 students on-stage playing “1812 Overture” by Tchaikovsky. It should be a good, fun time. Then our entire eighth-grade music department travels down to Elitch Gardens for a big music festival on Friday.
SDN: What are your other hobbies and interests besides music?
MK: I ski and splitboard a lot. I started speed flying last year. It’s like paragliding, but you just run off mountains, and you fly off of them. Or you can run off and ski with skis on. … Ski touring, SkiMo racing; I went mountain biking and trail running last week on the peninsula. Pretty much everything outdoors. I’m going to go ski a bunch of volcanoes this summer.
SDN: What advice would you give to aspiring musicians?
MK: Sticking with it is probably the hardest part. Once you learn an instrument, it’s hard to get over the hump of sticking with it and actually practicing. If it gets boring, try a new instrument.
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