Cobb County orchestra director calls on industry greats to help with virtual curriculum

Sprayberry High School looks and sounds a bit different this year. Orchestra performances have been silenced by concerns over the coronavirus pandemic, as Cobb County School District’s curriculum moved entirely online.

The commitment to remote learning presents a particularly challenging scenario for certain subjects.

Harrison Cook is Sprayberry’s orchestra program director. He described his first reaction to the virtual committment as “pure panic.”

“Orchestra, especially, you really need to be on top of the kids, making sure their fingers are in exactly the right spot, their bows are in the right place, and it's nearly impossible to do that virtually,” Cook said.

But with the challenge came opportunity.

Cook discovered a new way for his nearly 200 students to still harmonize, and he’s calling on the industry greats for a helping hand.

When the students begin their online learning Aug. 17, together, they will pick the brains of music professionals in weekly Q&As.

Cook calls it, "Artist in Residence."

“We've all been inspired by other people through our careers,” Cook told FOX 5’s Emilie Ikeda. “You don't get to be at the level of an Atlanta Symphony member without the help of people in the community from before.”

From first-rate opera singer Maria Valdes to Hamilton star Desmond Sean Ellington, world renowned composer Eric Whitacre and award-winning symphony conductor Roderick Cox – students will have the chance to hear from a new professional each week, of course, with research required in-between.

“I want the kids to be excited every week they come to school, even virtually, since they're not with their friends like they normally are,” Cook said.

And there’s no shortage in the impressive line-up. Cook has compiled more than 16 artists already, which means the program will likely extend beyond the 2020 curriculum.

Maria Valdes, a Cobb County success story, is eager to help her hometown and former classmate, Cook.

“That connection is very dear to me, and really I'm just thrilled to help students feel inspired during this time that can be very isolating,” Valdes said.