K-State music student receives high praise, pursues his dream

Weston Cook plays the tenor saxophone at rehearsal for the Thundering Cats Big Band, a community ensemble. The aspiring music teacher can play nine instruments and participates in six enemsembles.

He knows how to play nine instruments, and is comfortable performing in concert on six of them. He participates in five ensembles and spends 20 hours a week in class with an instrument.

His name is Weston Cook, senior in music education, and he lives for music.

“Well, my mom told me, when I was a little kid, when I would get upset or [start] crying, she would play the ‘Graceland’ album by Paul Simon,” Cook said. “For some reason all the little sounds in there had a calming effect on me. My grandpa was a very good piano player, and I remember just sitting on his lap and listening to him play jazz all the time. He didn’t read music or anything, he just did it all by ear. I think he was just a big influential part, because he was a good piano player.”

Cook is learning to play the piano now, as part of his curriculum as an aspiring music educator. But he can also play the clarinet, bass clarinet, soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, alto saxophone, baritone saxophone, trombone, trumpet, tuba and some of the percussion instruments.

Despite the wide range of his musical ability, the saxophone is his first love.

“When I was a little kid, I always just liked listening to saxophone players and jazz.” Cook said, “I was a big fan of jazz. My parents always liked it, so with it being one of the major solo instruments in jazz it was something that stuck out to me. I really wanted to learn how to play it, and I really wanted to play jazz. But it’s also a versatile instrument, so you can play all sorts of different genres on the saxophone.”

Even though Cook has loved music since his childhood, he was not always sure it was what he wanted for a career.

After high school he felt “burnt out” on music and even spent his first year at K-State in the athletic training program.

“I just missed music so much I had to go back,” he said.

Pursuing a career in music isn’t easy, but Cook is willing to put in the time to make his dream a reality, no matter how difficult.

“I wouldn’t say that anything [in music] really is difficult, it’s just … ill-practiced,” Cook said, “I mean, if you don’t practice, it is going to be difficult, and as a music major, it’s part of my job to practice. But I hate it when people say, ‘oh, I can’t play this scale because it’s so hard,’ when really it’s just different. It’s just new — you haven’t learned it.”

In addition to his full class load, Cook practices 10-12 hours a week on his own. But according to Brett Eichman, senior in music education, assistant drum major in the K-State marching band and Weston’s classmate, that is what is required to be one of the best.

“It takes a lot of dedication and willingness to do above and beyond what is required,” he said in an email interview. “You can get through school doing only what is required, but to really do it well and have a shot at a good job, it’s all of the extra things that matter the most. [Cook] is one of the best saxophone players in the studio, and that’s not an easy thing to accomplish in that studio.”

Cook will continue to pursue his passion as a fifth-year senior. He hopes to share his love of music as a high school music educator and part-time performer.

“I just want to share my passion for music with my students,” Cook said. “They might not necessarily attain the same passion that I have, but hopefully they learn something and gain something from my outlook on it. As a teacher, you should take that time to perform, because your students need to see that; that you’re not just this band guy who just waves his fist, shaking the baton around. You have to be a musician too. You have be a role model for your students.”

Although Cook has had doubts about his decision, Frank Tracz, marching band director and professor of three of Cook’s classes, still has much faith in Cook becoming a music educator.

“He will make an absolutely great music teacher,” Tracz said in an email interview. “Because of the fact that he has a huge heart and wants to make the world a better place.”