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Ephriam Cooper: headbanging and shimmying 

MOORHEAD — In his first year as a member of the Concordia Orchestra, Ephriam Delano Bakhit Cooper has made waves as a unique member of the ensemble.  

“​​I said we should all simultaneously spin our basses,” Cooper said. 

The bassists in Cooper’s section were working through playing Maria Grenfell’s “Roar.”  

He recognized an area of the piece that had no bassists playing and convinced the musicians in his section to add a bit of flair to theirperformance by spinning their instruments around in one synchronized move. 

The group decided to try the spin out during a full group rehearsal. The next time the orchestra met, Cooper’s section engaged in some slightly unorthodox, yet harmless fun by twirling their often unwieldy musical instruments around in a circle instead of keeping them stationary. 

To Cooper’s surprise, the orchestra director professor Kevin Sütterlin, found it amusing. 

“Professor Sütterlin was just like cracking up, he thought it was the coolest, most hilarious thing ever,” Cooper said. 

Even more surprising was what Sütterlin said a few weeks later, when he mandated that every section in the ensemble come up with a piece of choreography for “Roar.” 

Like many musicians, his interest in music began at a young age, with his first instrument being a drum set gifted to him at five years old.  

Cooper was forced to use chopsticks in place of the drumsticks after his curiosity got the best of him and he dropped both drumsticks inside of the drums,  

“I lost them by putting them in this little hole through the top of the bass drum. So I had to move from using the drumsticks to using the chopsticks we had in a cupboard,” Cooper said.  

One of Cooper’s favorite things about music is his ability to break the rules. This idea sparked a childhood love of STEM as well. He was fascinated by the creativity that could happen within science once you understood how things worked. 

“What intrigued me so much was the creativity that we were allowed in science, if you understand the fundamentals of science, you have so much room to break the rules, right?” Cooper said. 

According to him, music can be the same way. 

Jazz, for example, hinges on artists improvising and letting their own personal style be a part of the piece that is being played. 

A longtime friend and bandmate of Cooper, Enzo La Hoz Calassara, recalls a fond memory of the pair improvising together as a warm up before an orchestra concert. 

“Our jam quickly became the nucleus of a huge jazz-flavored jam sesh,” Calassara said. 

The two sparked a chain reaction that grew to involve the entire orchestra. Without Cooper to spark the musical jam, none of that would have happened, Calassara said. 

What Cooper really enjoys about elements of jazz is the mix of improvisation and sense of personal style that define the art. 

“But where jazz really shines is when a player can really embed the personality into their soloistic playing,” Cooper said.  

From a young age, Cooper’s musical style was characterized by breaking conventions, in part due to his influence from pop punk and punk bands such as Sum 41, Rancid, and Blink-182. 

“I would always see them just like going off on stage like, I remember watching this one Sum 41 performance of them on Total Request Live, and they were doing the coolest synchronized jumps ever and I was like, man, I want to do that,” Cooper said. 

From early on in his music career, Cooper adapted this nonconformist flair and added it to his performances. 

“I was jumping. I was head banging intensely. I spun my base one time during the performance. I would, you know, move my shoulders. I do like little shimmies. Again, I just didn’t care about Western art conventions at the time at all,” Cooper said.  

Since then, his disregard for Western art standards has changed, and his style has matured, but Cooper still believes that there is an appropriate place and time for his more rebellious flair.  

“Every performance is about understanding what you’re performing,” he said. 

Some pieces call for more of an energetic attitude, while others being calm, collected, and professional is expected, and his goal is to stay true to himself while respecting the art that he is so connected to.

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