New Marching Mizzou director breaks glass ceiling while keeping the beat

On a Tuesday at 4:15 p.m., a University of Missouri drum major blows a whistle signaling the beginning of practice. Standing on the second platform of the tower,. Erin Cooper exclaims, “Good afternoon, Marching Mizzou! How are you doing?” The band cheers in response, and Cooper begins rehearsal for the day.

Cooper knew from an early age that she wanted to be a teacher, originally wanting to work with younger students. However, as a drum major in her high school band, she realized she wanted to teach band at the college level. Now her dreams have come true, as Cooper is MU’s director of athletic bands and director of Marching Mizzou.

Cooper has many responsibilities when it comes to planning a new halftime show. Along with having rehearsals with the band, she selects the music, obtains the rights for the music, works with a separate wind and percussion arranger and works with the color guard and Golden Girls’ coach to write the drill. She also meets with athletics and marketing to work out logistics with timing and equipment for the halftime show.

In addition to Marching Mizzou, Cooper currently directs the Symphonic band and guest conducts with the Wind Ensemble. Next semester she will conduct the Wind Ensemble and teach a Marching Band Techniques course. With the help of graduate assistants, she is also the director of Mini Mizzou, a pep band that plays at home volleyball and men’s and women’s basketball games. She also attends many meetings with the music department and athletics.

Julia Gaines, director of the MU School of Music, said she was impressed with Cooper’s time at the University of Alabama and her work with the George Parks Drum Major Academy when considering her for the job at MU.

 “Her experience at Alabama was really impressive,” Gaines said. “Because they are SEC, they know what we need to do. Even as a doctoral TA she got tons of experience with what SEC life was going to be like. She led basketball band pretty much by herself, had done tons of headset work, she knows the commercials …. She knows what is expected in SEC land.”

Cooper says her least favorite part of her job is dealing with administrative tasks, such as meetings and paperwork. She enjoys working with the students the most.

“I don’t mind doing all of those things,” Cooper said. “I had a mentor, a long time ago, say one time say that 90 percent of what you have to do as a band director is what you don’t want to do, so you can get that 10 percent of what you want to do on the podium.”

Gaines says she likes that Cooper has lots of energy, feistiness and drive. Cooper’s high level of energy is needed for this job. She is working 60 hours a week in the fall, if not more, according to Gaines.

Gretchen Pohlman, graduate assistant for Marching Mizzou, says she admires Cooper’s strength and persistence.

“She is doing a job that, at the minimum, two people should do,” Polhman said.

Gaines emphasizes that she is happy MU got their top candidate for this position.

“The fact that she is a woman had nothing to do with me hiring her,” Gaines said. “The fact that I am a woman had nothing to do with me hiring her. I am certainly proud that we finally have a woman role model to show people, ‘look women can do this job too.’ We have had men forever, so I am definitely never going to shy away from that but that had nothing to do with why she was hired.”

Cooper was born in Kentucky, but grew up in Maryland outside of Washington, D.C., After she earned her undergraduate degree in music education from James Madison University she taught school in Montgomery County, Maryland. She then received her master’s degree in conducting from the University of Delaware. She taught at an arts school in Florida and then went on to earn her doctorate degree at the University of Alabama. Before coming to the University of Missouri, she taught at Southeastern Oklahoma State University.

“I really have lived all over,” Cooper said. “I have had a lot of different and varied experiences that have really helped me be able to build the program I want to build.”

Cooper learned to play the piano in second grade and the flute in the fifth grade. Her favorite instrument to play is the piccolo. Even though she has had to learn to play many instruments there are still more she wants to learn. She is working on the ukulele and also wants to learn to play the harp.

Maggie Resor

About the Author Maggie Resor

I am a freshman science and agricultural journalism major at MU. I am from Chillicothe, Missouri, a small town about an hour and a half north of Kansas City. Chillicothe is also known for being the “Home of Sliced Bread.” During the summer between my freshman and sophomore year of high school, I attended Joseph Baldwin Academy, a summer academic camp. While at Joseph Baldwin Academy I took a class about journalism. This is where my interest in journalism began. I love telling other people’s stories. I chose to major in science and agricultural journalism, because I can communicate the importance of agriculture in our everyday lives.