When Involvement Comes Naturally

Ask Music Academy donors and Compeers Mary Jane and Andy Cooper to describe the most rewarding aspect of their involvement with the Academy, and you’ll get two seemingly different answers. Percussionist Mary Jane mentions the great music and the many techniques she’s learned along the way. For Andy, an avid sailor who serves on the board of the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum, it was taking “their” fellow Christine Comer (’19, ’20) sailing during the 2019 Summer Festival.

Though these responses appear quite different at first glance, they are both classic Music Academy. Their answers speak to both the artistic and educational quality of the Academy’s programs and the unique intimacy of its community. It is one thing to acknowledge that philanthropic support is, as Mary Jane puts it, “an investment in young musicians’ futures.” It is another thing entirely to have the chance to get to know those young musicians as people.

This combination of quality and community is what led Mary Jane and Andy Cooper to rapidly increase their involvement with the Music Academy over the span of just a few years. In addition to serving as Compeers and members of the President’s Circle, Mary Jane is also a newly designated member of the Innovation and Education Committee.

Mary Jane is a retired special education teacher originally from San Diego, Andy a UC Riverside and UCLA graduate who retired as the head of his own concrete business. After many years in Sherman Oaks, the Coopers moved to Santa Barbara on April Fools’ Day in 1998. But living in paradise is no joke for them. Neither is their involvement in the community. It’s clear that helping out is in Mary Jane’s and Andy’s DNA. Andy served a stint in the Peace Corps after college and has been involved with the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum since its inception in roles ranging from maintenance man to docent to board member. Mary Jane’s volunteerism dates to her childhood: “I’ve volunteered ever since I was in the Brownies! I remember being in second grade and taking turkeys down to the local church for people who needed Thanksgiving dinner.”

As a musician herself, it should come as no surprise that Mary Jane’s activities tend toward music, especially music education. For the last 34 years, she’s been administering a memorial opera scholarship at Cal State Northridge – a touching and impactful tribute to a friend who passed away. She’s part of a local ukulele group that visits hospitals, retirement homes, and memory care facilities. And then there’s her 15-year involvement with the Santa Barbara Symphony’s Music Van, a music education initiative that reaches 2,000 kids every year. For her work with the Music Van, Mary Jane was awarded the MVP award from the Association of California Symphony Orchestras.

Percussion fellow Jake Darnell (’19) with Compeers Anne-Marie Castelberg (left) and Mary Jane Cooper (right).
At top: Mary Jane and Andy Cooper tour the Steinway Factory in New York in 2019.

Mary Jane takes great pride in her musical activities, and it’s not difficult to notice that Andy does, as well. He’s quick to point out her pursuits, like the ukulele group or her participation as a percussionist in the Prime Time Band, a local group made up of musicians age 50 and above. This musical background is one reason Mary Jane is so fond of percussion masterclasses. “It’s given me an opportunity to learn some of the finer points,” she says, “from holding mallets properly to how to mute the bass drum.” “And it makes me happy that it makes Mary Jane happy,” Andy adds with a smile.

Involvement with the Music Academy, then, came naturally to the Coopers. “When I go to Music Academy concerts, especially those that feature the fellows, there is so much energy and it’s so enjoyable,” says Mary Jane. “Things are done so well, so professionally. We think the Music Academy is first class.”

As Mary Jane and Andy Cooper show, a first-class organization is only possible through the involvement of first-class people.

– Henry Michaels
Resonance editor, Audience Services and Community Access Manager, Music Academy of the West