Tim Iversen, November 21, 2021


Tim Iversen, November 21, 2021
Tim Iversen
John York
Cooperstown, New York
Cooperstown Dreams Park
Cooperstown Central Schools
Laurens, New York
Music Education
SUNY Oneonta
Orpheus Theater
Community Involvement
Local Politics
Main Street
Otsego County
Timothy (Tim) Iversen is the current choral and former band director for Cooperstown Junior/Senior High School in Cooperstown, New York. Born in Oyster Bay on Long Island, Mr. Iversen moved to Cooperstown at an early age with his family and grew up in the community during the 1970s and 80s before moving for college and eventually graduate studies elsewhere. As a professional music educator and performer, many of his early memories involve interacting with classmates, family, and town locals learning how to play the piano from a youthful age and performing throughout school.

Following a period of graduate studies that included multiple master's degrees in music theory and composition, and nearly finishing work on a PhD, Mr. Iversen spent time teaching at the university level in both Ohio and Wisconsin before spending time in the music publishing business. Eventually, Mr. Iversen came back to Cooperstown to teach in the K-12 schools of the Otsego County area and to perform and conduct music ranging from jazz to musical theatre throughout the area. Some of the most interesting parts of the interview take place at the intersection of comparing his childhood experiences to returning to Cooperstown, the power of music, and how involvement in small town affairs is meaningful.

Iversen’s recollections range from small, humorous memories to commentary on how things have changed over the course of his lifetime in the makeup and personality of the local community, as well as how that reflects national moods in 2021. Focus is spent on describing the community now and how he hopes to be able to make a positive impact on the younger generation who live in Cooperstown now, though in numbers far smaller than when he was growing up. Much is also made about the changes in attitudes community members have made over the years with each other, highlighted by a conversation about Mr. Iversen’s role in the fracking debate that took place before a state moratorium was put in place.

I interviewed Mr. Iversen at his home outside of Cooperstown, New York just after he had guided his students through both the annual fall musical and hosting an all-district music competition at the local secondary school, which helped to direct much of the discussion. As an incredibly active member of the local music and theatre community, Mr. Iversen has gotten the chance to interact with many Otsego County residents and this also plays a considerable influence on the conversation below. Further community involvement can be said to include organ playing at the First Baptist Church and taking part in the local Scouting troop.
TI= Tim Iversen
JY = John York

[START OF TRACK 1, 0:00]

It is November 21st, 2021. This is John York interviewing Timothy (Tim) Iversen at his house on Beaver Meadow Rd in Cooperstown, New York.

Mr. Iversen, I'd just like to start with the simple question - when and where were you born?

I was born in Oyster Bay, Long Island, May 12th, 1969. My family moved up to Cooperstown when I was about five years old, and I always tell people I escaped before any permanent damage was done. My parents had before that point built a cabin up in Roseboom which is about 15 minutes from here. On the weekends we used to come up. So, then my father had the opportunity to move up here for his employment, he worked for Ma Bell phone company, and we moved up. And my mom got a job teaching here over in Richfield Springs.

All right, can you tell me what it was like growing up as a kid in Cooperstown?

You know, in a lot of ways, very idyllic really. Cooperstown is, I moved home for a reason, mostly to raise my own kids. I grew up out of town out on Route 33 just past the Red Creek Farm, which is a pretty common place that everybody recognizes, right where Kraham Road breaks off up the hill there was our house.

[TRACK 1 01:30]

You know Cooperstown was great. It's a small town. Everybody knows each other, which is often [a] very nice thing. Maybe not as much now as it was then, but you know this is pre-Facebook and email and everything. It was very friendly. There were definitely things to do. It was the kind of community you could get involved in things. My father was the Webelos Master for a while and a Scoutmaster, so my brother and I, I in particular, did Scouts for many years. You had the Clark gym, which was on Main Street when I was a kid. It's now part of the Hall of Fame and kids used to go there and take swim lessons after school and play bitty basketball and squash and stuff like that. There was JC soccer. There were a lot of things and even by 1970s standards, certainly there were a lot of options for kids. So even though my parents both kind of worked in different towns in Cooperstown there was always stuff for us to do after school. And that was, you know, it was pretty good.

Not only that, my family, we really kind of took advantage of some of the things around us. We did hiking and some backpacking and some things that upstate New York lends themselves to. We had a little boat. We'd go out fishing on the lake once in a while. I hate fishing, it skipped this generation, but there was a lot to do; the Winter Carnival, we'd go out and watch the truck races on the lake and things like that and participate in all those events.

Growing up, how did the love of music kind of start to develop?

You know my parents, neither one of them are musicians, but they both like music and listen to a lot of music. Particularly, my mom's music influenced me. My parents listened to a lot of Crosby Stills, Nash and Young, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company, some of my mom's favorites, James Taylor, but she also had quite a few Broadway soundtracks. Which kind of got me started. And then at one point just the high school jazz band my brother played in. He was, he's three years older than me, and going to all the school concerts you'd hear these groups.

Back then, even people who weren't involved in the music program would go to the concerts. The auditorium was always full, and even though it's a small school the entire community would kind of show up for these concerts. And Cooperstown's always had a fairly strong music program, at the school. Not only that, you had Glimmerglass Opera, which started up in Cooperstown in the 1970s. The Cooperstown Concert series brought in some really great people. Over the years I remember seeing the great jazz pianist Marian McPartland in the high school auditorium; Maynard Ferguson and his big band came to town, so you know there was a fair amount of options for that.

And really, we're close enough that my family being from Long Island, going into the city wasn't really a big deal. We’d do that once or twice a year and when I was about, I don't know, 10 or 11 years old, we actually started going to see a musical pretty much every year, which, as a guy who really likes musicals, that was where that started. I remember seeing 42nd Street with Jerry Orbach in like 1980, that was like my first Broadway show and it was a big deal. It was a pretty huge show, and it was very impressive. And that's back when New York City was, you know, still kind of a hellhole. It got cleaned up in the later 80s. So, you know Cooperstown was a good area for that.

I took piano lessons outside of school with Ruth Wick who was a retired music teacher from the school. Actually, it's a pretty interesting story with that. Ruth Wick gave lots of lessons and when my mom called her, somebody told my mom “‘Make sure you let her know that they're boys because she can never get enough boys to take lessons.’” And when my mom called her and said that she wanted her two children to take lessons and then Ruth said, “‘I'm so sorry. There's just not enough room in my roster. I don't have time,’” and my mother said “‘Oh, I'm sorry my boys will be so disappointed,’” and that [narrator’s hands clap] totally changed her tune - “‘Oh! They’re boys? Well, I'm sure we can find a way to get them in.’” We used to go play at the nursing home, we played at the Thanksgiving Home and down at the Meadows, which is now the Cooperstown Center. She used to bring her students down there to play.

My brother and I, actually another good story, the way we got our piano when I was like six years old and my brother was would have been nine, I guess, we got 50 bucks each for Christmas for my grandparents, which I have no idea where they got that amount of money, because in 1975 that was a decent amount of money. And on Route 28 where Cooperstown Event Rentals is now or something like that was an old kind of junk antique store that a guy named Charlie Campbell ran. He was really old even then, by my standards, certainly, but everybody in Cooperstown back then knew who he was and we were just in his shop one day. My parents loved to go into these old antique stores and whatnot in junk shops and find old beat up furniture and stuff - and we saw this absolutely grotesque huge old upright piano. It looked like an old bar room piano, had the mirror across the top, and it was painted this just absolutely hideous light green, it was terrible. And he wanted $300.00 for it, but he sold it to us for 100 bucks and even delivered the thing to our house. And that's how my brother and I got the piano.

My parents don't remember it this way, but my recollection was that I was not old enough to take lessons at first, so I didn't start until I was eight. But my brother, when he started, every time he came home from lessons, I would bug him to teach me whatever he learned because that's what younger brothers do. And so by the time I was ready to start I could read music and I could read rhythm and I knew the numbers on my fingers and I knew the notes on the piano so [it] got me off to a pretty good start.

So, as a follow up to that, can I just ask...


How does it feel when you are playing piano?

Oh, I love it. For me it’s become the most natural thing and I don't, I probably don't play as well as I used to, certainly not like classical. I don't keep up a regular practice routine because I don't have time for it. I play enough jazz that I can keep those chops going. I started doing that in my late teens. But honestly, it's just something I, that feels like I was kind of born to do it. It came pretty naturally to me and when I was a kid, in particular, I played a lot. We lived out of town. We didn't have cable TV like all the kids in town. All we got was WKTV with Lyle Bosley, who owns the station. He was the weatherman [and] he was terrible. They had the same anchor from 1974 until I moved back to Cooperstown in like 2006. He was still there, Bill Worden, and he was still there which blew my mind! But anyway, it just it was something that kind of came to me.

But I have to credit a couple people. First of all Mrs. Wick was a really good teacher and then when Mrs. Wick said that I wasn't going to learn anything else from her she passed me on to Judy Green who still lives in the area. When I was in school, we had a music teacher, Mr. Millan. When he found out that I took piano lessons in second grade, he made me bring my books to class with me whenever we had like our general music class and he made me play in front of my classmates. And I remember at the time I hated it. I absolutely hated it and I just couldn't believe this guy would do this and I can't imagine nowadays that a parent would put up with that kind of thing. My parents said [if he] wants you to play then you should play. So, I did.

But I have to credit him because it got me to the point where I realized I was very comfortable playing in front of anybody whether I was prepared or not. And I'm still pretty comfortable that way. You know, I'll step in front of you know, I've played with the [Catskill] Symphony a few times down in Oneonta and that's a big crowd playing music that I don't usually play. It just didn't bug me, you know, it was good.

And the second thing was that for six years, starting from 7th grade through 12th grade, I was the accompanist for Neil [Yanchutsen] who was the chorus director in the Junior/Senior High School, and that was probably the best musical training, and I've studied music you know for more than 40 years now, that was the best musical training I ever had. Because I had to learn how to play stuff that was way beyond my ability and support a group. I had to learn how to read a whole bunch of staffs at the same time to play different vocal parts. Being his piano monkey for six years, really, really juiced my ability to later to improvise. [Grandfather clock chimes] To make stuff up and to play in front of people. So, I owe them a lot which was pretty good.

[TRACK 1 11:25]

I actually still love doing that I still love accompanying whenever there's a festival like area All-State or All-County, I always throw my name in the ring to accompany because every time you work with a new director or a new conductor you always learn new things. You know you always get new perspectives; you find new pieces you get to try stuff and kind of the same level you know accompanying I think is the best musical training. The other one that I think is really great and I didn't start doing this so much until my late teens was playing in pit orchestras. You know you get the music, you have a little bit of time to learn it, usually just a couple of weeks, you get maybe one or two rehearsals with the pit orchestra to get it right and then you're thrown into playing it in the show where some actor is going to jump three verses and the conductor is going to get to yell out “‘Measure 141!’” and you got that kind of stressful playing. I encourage my better students to do that because it's such a good training ground for musicians. Plus, I like that kind of music and I like shows, so that doesn't hurt, but those are the two things that really, really got me going.

And really, those are also the things that moved me forward in music education.

[TRACK 1 12:41]

I didn't know what I wanted to do when I graduated high school. I actually started at Colgate as a double major in math and computer science and I'm pretty sure the worst night of my dad's life was when I called my freshman [year in the] spring and told him I was changing my degrees to music and philosophy, and his exact words were the two least employable degrees. By the way, art history or maybe even English nowadays are probably the least employable. I don't know.

But I actually got to Colgate at an area all-state festival my senior year a couple of days, it was in Greene, New York, if I remember correctly. The conductor for the mixed chorus was Marietta Cheng, who's a Colgate professor, and I was supposed to play in the concert band. And about, maybe less than a week before the festival something happened to the piano player and they had to cancel, and they offered me the opportunity to fill in, which they never asked students to do that. So, I was very surprised and pretty darn honored to do that.

But the music was so difficult. One of the pieces was a Haydn orchestral reduction for piano for the chorus, which they don't lay well in your hands, and I've got small hands anyway, and I really had to fake my way through it. But I had been doing it for so long for Neil [Yanchutsen] that I knew which lines I needed to keep and Marietta Cheng was actually a little bit impressed with my work and she said, hey, you want to come check us out at Colgate? And I did and I loved it, and I got a scholarship there, so I went.

Yeah, so this works because I'd like to kind of talk a little bit about teaching.


You mentioned that it wasn't the first thing that you got into. What did inspire [you] getting into teaching?

Well, really, I went through the academic circuit first. I graduated from Colgate in 1992. [TRACK 1 14:39] I went to Bowling Green, Ohio, and did the work for three master's degrees in composition, music theory and jazz performance. And then I also taught for a couple of years there. I then went on to the University of Wisconsin to do a doctorate, and I taught there for two years. I did all the work for my doctorate in composition and then decided not to put my name in because I wasn’t enjoying teaching at college at that point.

And this is, I don't mean to be nasty or anything, but the students that I had in Wisconsin; when I taught at Bowling Green, they weren't necessarily the best and brightest, but they really were good workers, and I got to Wisconsin and here I am in Madison, and I have the best and brightest in this state. But they thought they knew everything, and they were really lazy, a lot of them, and I really struggled with that.

I remember the last straw very clearly. I had a kid who was a senior who was taking my sophomore music theory class. And the class met at 9:00 in the morning. Which in Wisconsin time the earliest classes I think actually met at 7:00 at Madison, I mean they were early, so nine o'clock was not really considered that early of a class, and this kid was skipping class a lot and he would show up in his pajamas, he would show up hungover or still drunk from the night before, and at the end of the semester he got a C minus, which honestly was probably a gift. He was a senior. And I got a call from his father. I actually had calls from parents about grades a couple times, which blew my mind for a college student, but OK. This guy calls me up and says, “‘Well, how the hell is my kid supposed to get through law school if he can't pass your stupid music class?’” and I gave him a very honest answer and I said “‘Sir, I would save $50,000 a year and don't send that boy to law school until he learns how to show up sober or not in his pajamas for class and excuse me, I have work to do.’” I walked right down to the Music Department office and the interim Dean, Jeff, was there and he was on the phone at the secretary's desk. I realized pretty quickly it was that guy's father complaining about me. I just heard him say “‘Uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh. Well, actually sir, I think Mr. Iversen gave you some very good advice. Excuse me.’” And he hands the phone to the secretary [and said] “‘Tim, do we have something we need to talk about?’” and I walked into his office and I'm very thankful that he stood up for me. I mean, I really am, but I said to him, I said Jeff, “‘I can't do this. I can't spend the rest of my life teaching people who don't really care about what they're doing and particularly the feeling that if I teach orchestration to a kid, they're not going to use it, they're not going to go on and teach orchestration to somebody else, maybe.’” [TRACK 1 18:00]

I really struggled with that and just the academic setting, so I left the university and went to musicnotes.com, which was a startup at the time. I was there for eight years and I also worked as the pianist for Ballet Madison for eight years while I was there, and I played the organ for the Madison Mallards Baseball Club in the summer, which was a terrific job that I loved and then I really missed teaching.

I actually worked with a couple of the high schools. I did a lot of accompanying for like solo and ensemble contests, and for musicals. I worked with a really good jazz band at one of the high schools. I really missed teaching, but I decided that college wasn't the right place for me to teach, and that I'd come back to public school teaching; which was why I decided not to turn in my dissertation. You know, I wrote the whole thing, it's two one-act operas. I didn't turn it in because I knew that [a] high school contract in a lot of places I wouldn't get hired if I had a doctorate because they’ve got to pay you better and a lot of schools just weren't going to do that.

[TRACK 1 18:56]

We decided to move back to Cooperstown. I was still married at that point. My wife had rather a lot of pretty serious health issues at that point and I had a really nice job offer, but it would have required me to move the family to Miami and I didn't want to do that. It also would have had me on a plane three or four days a week. My kids were young [and] I didn't want that, so I decided to come back and teach in upstate New York where I felt like I had a good enough name recognition and that I'd probably have pretty good luck getting a job and I would have my family around to help with the kids if I was teaching and Tamara was really too sick to be taking care of them at times. And that has worked out to be a really good thing.

And it's something that I share with my students now. I make far less money than I would have made if I had stayed in music publishing. There's no doubt about that. But, teaching allows me not only to feel like I'm doing something good, I like what I do. I like my students. I like my coworkers. I like teaching. But it also affords me time to work. You know, I play in a jazz quintet and we play out a fair amount. I sit in with bands fairly frequently. I play in pit orchestras or I music direct for theater outside of school. I do the musicals up at Suny Oneonta pretty much every spring, for the last 8-9 years now. And I wouldn't have had that opportunity if I had stayed in academia, or if I had stayed in music publishing.

So, it was a good decision. And I'm a much, much happier person for it despite the lower income. That's really OK with me.

I'd like to know more about how you go about selecting music for your students.

[TRACK 1 20:53]

OK, well, that's a good question. It really depends on which group I'm working with. For my junior high chorus, my goal with them is these are kids coming out of elementary school they’ve had some singing, but they still need a lot of technique work in terms of learning just the basics of good vocal production and they haven't really experienced singing harmony. And that's my big push with junior high groups is that by the end of the year I want them to be comfortable matching pitch and holding harmony and then I try to pick music that is going to be helpful to that end.

So, I push them pretty hard. I've been accused by other teachers of working my students too hard and picking music that's too difficult for them. I don't believe that. I believe that a low bar is for tripping. I raise the bar high, and students almost always meet it. I'm a very firm believer in that. I also think that the sooner you can get them singing better, the better-quality music you can pick out for them.

I don't like picking stuff that I consider kind of hokey. You know, there's lots of fun music that you can do with younger kids, but they're 7th and 8th graders, and I think if you have them sing music that's a little more serious, a little more connected to the canon of decent choral music, I think they're going to do better and they're going to have a better experience and they're going to get more out of it. So, I do a fair amount of kind of classical choral music and classic genre choral music. I do some music from Broadway and occasionally we do a pop tune or two.

[TRACK 1 22:43]

We don't do a lot of that. In my high school [group], I do mostly what I would consider to be, you know, great, great choral music. We try to do one big kind of classical warhorse a year. I did the [Benjamin] Britten Ceremony of Carols a couple of years ago actually in our concert in December. We're doing three movements of Mozart. So, I try to pick some good choral literature for them. But I also think it's important that at that age group they experience the different kinds of choral music. We make sure get some gospel in. We make sure we get some contemporary choral music in. And we do try to get in music from Broadway, some music from opera music from a lot of different sources.

Very important to me with both groups, lots of different languages. We had a festival this weekend and I heard some of the choral directors from other schools complaining that one of the mixed chorus director picked five pieces instead of four and two of them were in foreign languages, one in German and one in Italian. And I thought, why on Earth would you complain about that? It's great music and students should be learning that anyway. And they did fine by the way, they did a nice job and their German even sounded pretty good. So that was good.

[TRACK 1 24:06]

Picking the musical every year is honestly harder than picking for the groups. Number one, you have to figure that I'm going to have a lot more females coming out for roles than I am males and so that that actually instantly cuts down what you can do. [It’s] surprising how many musicals are really male dominated, but if you think about it, most of them are. And then you have to consider what is the town ready to see their students doing?

I never think about can the students handle the material, usually the subject matter. They're teenagers, they can. But you do have to think about you do have to respect the community enough to think what is the community going to be comfortable seeing, and I've been pretty careful with that. A couple years ago I was going to do something a little bit edgier and I actually never ask to do a musical [I] just do it, and that's honestly, I think the way it should be. They've hired me. They should trust me to do this, right. And so far I think I have.

I had one year that I wanted to do a musical that is a little bit edgier and had some more mature content in it, but it's a classic musical. It was such a good choice for the students that I was going to have that year and I actually went and spoke to the superintendent about it and I said this is what I would like to do and I know that it doesn't fit our normal pattern and we talked about it for a while and he asked me, “‘OK, what reasons do you have for picking this musical?’” And I said, well, I talked about the quality of the music and the fact that it was going to be such a great learning experience for the kids and the style of musical meant lots of good roles and things that they could really grow through. And the Superintendent was fine with it. But then we got a new principal the next fall and they were not.

And so, the day before auditions, they told me I had to change the musical, which I was not delighted about. But that happens. And again, it's one of those things that it would have pushed the audience a little bit but I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. You know I can't do a musical every year that is strictly a family musical that you can bring all your kids to.

This year we did. We did the Wind in the Willows. Classic English children's tale. The characters are all animals, moles and rats and Mr. Toad and you know it's great, perfect for kids. This other show maybe you wouldn't want to bring your kids to that. We did Le Miz [Les Miserable], a couple years ago, for heaven's sake and all the high school girls were delighted to be playing prostitutes and they loved it but it's great literature, so you can expect that. That's harder for me because when I work with students, I see what they can handle, you know, I see how mature they are. I see the society they live in. I see what movies they watch, what video games they play, what Tik Tok artists they follow, and I know that no musical that I pick, well, OK, no musical that I would pick is ever going to push them to do something that's out of their comfort realm; but it could push out of what their parents are comfortable with.

And that's a harder line for me to walk because I don't like that line. I'm a firm believer that it should be about the students more than about the community. And that sounds terrible on some level probably, but I think it's true. I do respect the Community enough that I'm not going to do something you know, really pushing the kids.

One of the high schools around here did Rent a couple of years ago. Now, first of all, I'm not a huge fan of Rent, but secondly, I can understand why a community would be uncomfortable with that and they did the high school version of Rent and I won't do that. I'm not going to take an art form that's watered down and try to feed that to my students. I don't think that's right. I think they deserve better than that.

That's a long answer, probably, sorry.

It's great. You did mention that you do shows at the college, SUNY Oneonta, as well. Can you describe a little bit of selecting music there too?

[TRACK 1 28:46]

Sure, I don't pick the shows there. Those I’m a hired gun on. But one of the things that I like about that, and I do shows with Orpheus Theater as well, and but again, I'm generally a hired gun on that.

For a while I was on the committee to help pick shows there. But those are a little bit different because they're serving a different audience. At the university, for example, if they want to be edgy, they are perfectly welcome to be edgy. We did Avenue Q a couple years ago, which is basically a rated R version of Sesame Street. I mean, it's puppets and people and naughty little songs. We had a blast, and the students were terrific in it and it was a really great production.

It's nice because when I do a musical up there a lot of the students involved are students training to be in the theater, either as actors or backstage or whatever, and so the production quality is pretty darn high on those musicals and the directors that I get to work with up with their, I mean, they're just their first rate; Andrew Kahl and Kiara Pipino....

[START OF TRACK 2, 00:00]

...and John McCaslin Doyle, I've done a little bit of work with him. All three of them really know how to put a show on stage, and they are particularly good at getting the best out of their actors, which of course is an important job for a director. So, I always enjoy working on those shows. We did a production of Drowsy Chaperone that was just top notch. We did Carousel with a big orchestra of about 30 players, which for me conducting 30 people, that's nice. We did a great production of Honk where they brought in lots of little kids to watch the show, but it was still good theater. It wasn't kind of watered down for children, it was it was really a great production. Avenue Q was strong. We did Nine to Five a couple of years ago. They do really good shows. And that's nice.

And Orpheus as well. I'm very proud of some of the work we've done with Orpheus. It's community theater and so money is always tight with them. It's always an issue, but they've also done some shows that I'm really proud of.

We did Spamalot just before COVID hit it, literally we got it in like a week before everything shut down. I was really proud of that production. It was really solid. And I always have a good time doing it, so I'm very lucky that I get to do these things. I’ve got nine jobs and I'm tired a lot, but that's OK. It's a good kind of tired.

So, circling back, you mentioned a little bit about community in regard to teaching and selecting shows. And you also mentioned earlier in this interview that you think the community might not be quite as friendly as it was when you were growing up. I was wondering if you could describe a little bit more about some of the things going on in Cooperstown.

A couple of things have changed in Cooperstown from my vision.

I can remember being a kid walking down Main Street and Main Street had shoe stores and clothing stores and I think there were four hardware stores on Main Street when I was a kid. I remember McGown's, McEwan's, Western Auto, and Bruce Hall. It was what I imagine American small towns were like in the [19]50s and [19]60s more. Where you didn't have to leave Cooperstown to go in to go to Walmart in Oneonta. You didn't have to do that. What you needed; you could get here. I remember there being two grocery stores. There was the A&P and Victory. Both in town and then one of them, Victory, turned into Great American. I remember there being four gas stations in town instead of two.

So, it's changed a lot that way, just in terms of kind of the composition of the town.

The other thing that's really changed, and, I wouldn't say [I’ve been] necessarily vocal about this. It's not like I go out screaming about it, but it's certainly an opinion I've had for a long time; [the Cooperstown] Dreams Park really changed this area a lot. And as they grew, and congratulations to them, because they're terribly successful, they've really grown since they opened up in, I think it was the early [19]90s when they first opened. But what happened is it became easier for people to make money renting out houses to Dreams Park than it was to rent out for a family to live a year. I think the Dreams Park season is 14 weeks long. You can make more money renting out a small house to Dreams Park families for 14 weeks than you can renting to a family that's going to live there year-round for the whole year.

And that has greatly increased the rate at which our county is shrinking in terms of population. So many people who work at Bassett would love to live in this area and live closer to the hospital and they can't afford a house. They can't find one here because the cheaper homes have all been bought up, fixed up and rented to Dreams Park. That has really changed our area. It's driven down the numbers in our school very quickly. In the early [19]90s, I believe, Cooperstown Schools K[indergarten] through 12 was about 1,375 and we're under 900 now, so we effectively lost a third of our student population. And that's a big change.

And it's a difficult change because a school of 1,375 probably has more opportunities for some programs that a school of under 900 can't do; conveniently, we are lucky in Cooperstown that we have the Clark Sports Center, which when it's not COVID, half the kids in the town go there after school and we are lucky to have that. I'm sure there's a lot of parents really struggling for childcare right now because the Clark Sports Center won't allow kids 12 and under there without vaccination. Which fine, it's reasonable, but that's a game changer.

And that's been a difficulty for the school system I think to adjust to. Because when you have 1,375 and you're adding things in and more options for students. It's much harder to take those options away as you shrink. Community doesn't like that. You know you look at the number of sports we have is probably more than what our school can really handle, which is why we don't play with eleven people on a football team anymore and we bring kids in from Milford to play on our team because otherwise we don't really have enough to field a team.

We lost field hockey a couple years ago. It's much harder to balance these things out now. And that has a big effect across the whole school system then because when you've got kids spread so much thinner in the sports, that means that the other activities they're going to have a harder time fitting into their schedules.

And for me, that's a challenge because now I have to work my musical schedule, which is a big event that goes for a long time around more sports and kids that are already pretty stressed about them. And that's true for every sports season, for jazz band and jazz vocal and other after school clubs, Tech Club and Art Club and Envirothon and things like that, it's getting harder and harder to schedule things for the kids that way.

There's also a demand from universities. I think that is a little unfair on the students in terms of what classes they take and how much they fill their resumes out to get into these universities. I think it pushes kids very much to do things that are not in their best interest. I'm kind of a firm believer and as a high school teacher, I'm sure there are people who would disagree with me on this, but I think there's also a lot of people who wouldn’t, I think your teenage years, the big thing in life is that you should be learning how to work with other people during that time. I think that your teenage years are really the time for that. I worry that kids that are stressed out trying to take nine AP classes before they graduate and play a sport every season and do, you know, all this charity [work]. I think they're so stressed out that they're not really in a position to spend time with other kids so much anymore, and so they don't learn how to how to work with other people as well as perhaps they need to.

That's a societal thing and I don't think Cooperstown does a bad job at that or anything, I think that we're doing a good job of accommodating what these kids think they need for college. I think it's unfortunate that colleges are pushing kids in that direction. Unpopular opinions, but there you go.

[TRACK 2 08:52]

So, you've mentioned to me in our pre-meeting that you were involved in another issue in Cooperstown in recent history which was around fracking.


Can you describe some more about your involvement in that?

Yes, well, I am not pro fracking. My original involvement was there were a lot of people who were talking about fracking when it was kind of bubbling up [Chuckle], when it was kind of coming up. And they were looking for places to meet and my wife said, how about we hold a meeting in our house? You know why not? We've got some room in the basement. We can get in a fair number of people. And so, we kind of opened the idea up to this meeting of people who were concerned about fracking, and we expected 10 or 12 people and [instead we had] 65 people crammed in our basement talking about it. And we got involved in that.

A couple of things happened out of that. I think I told you about the ladder for the church. That a farmer who I know down the road from us had offered us a secure safety ladder from the side of his unused silo so we could put it on the First Baptist Church so they could get up to the bell tower easier instead of having to climb the walls to get up, which we currently do. And I was, you know, really happy to kind of orchestrate that. And then I put my name on a letter of people who were concerned about fracking, that was in the paper, and this farmer, who had his land leased out to one of the companies, read that and was not very happy about that and so he called me up and told me that I could screw myself that we weren't getting his ladder now.

And after that, I was asked after the meeting because I moderated the meeting, strictly because it was in my house and my wife didn't want to do it, so, I wound up doing it and I'm fairly comfortable in front of a crowd, thank you Mr. Millan. [clock chimes in background] I got asked if I would moderate a meeting that was a little bigger and had people from both sides of the fracking debate in Milford. And it was in the school in Milford, in their auditorium, which is a room I had played in pit orchestras for a million times. And I said, “‘yeah, I said I could do that.’ I can put off my anti-fracking hat for a day and be a moderator.” I could do that, and I think I did a reasonably good job of keeping everybody even keeled and respectful and keeping it a dialogue rather than a shouting match.

And we had a few people, we had one person from an oil company who came. We had one farmer who came who had leased his property, kind of on the pro fracking side. And then we had a former oil company executive who lives in Cooperstown who was very anti-fracking, and a geologist, I think he's a geologist, somebody with a science background kind of on the other side. And they had a good conversation and good presentations and we took questions from the crowd and I tried to, you know, moderate and it went really well and then all of a sudden I got asked to do it at like nine other places.

I was teaching at Laurens at that point. If I remember correctly, I was still in Laurens and it's a drive to school and back. I didn't have a lot of time for this, but I agreed, and I did a bunch of them. West Winfield. I think I did one in Cherry Valley. I did quite a few of them as a moderator. And they were all, I would say, relatively successful until the last one I did. The last one I did got pretty ugly. There were some farmers who had fracked out their land who were very vocal. And there were some people on the other side who were very vocal, and they were very hostile to each other. And I tried to kind of step in and say look the whole point of this is that we are neighbors, and we need to find ways to work together and come to good decisions about this and try to understand each other's perspectives and see where we can find common ground to solve this problem. They were having none of that, they did not want to hear any of that. Which I fear was a symptom of where we are now politically in this country, but that's a much bigger and broader issue. I look at politics now and I find it very distressing that there's no search for common ground. There is a search to get people to vote your way and that's it. That frustrates me greatly because we certainly all have more to benefit from working together than we do screaming at other people.

What were some of the points of contention in these fracking debates?

[TRACK 2 14:13]

Well, people who had environmental concerns, you know, they had science on their side, clearly. There were plenty of examples of fracking gone wrong. You can look, watch the videos of people turning on their taps and setting them on fire in Pennsylvania and in Oklahoma, examples of wells being, you know, completely polluted. The storage pits leaking and spreading horrible chemicals all over the place. So, I mean there were plenty of examples, plenty of that. There were photographs of some of the side cuts into the hills and things like that that were really awful.

The other side was maybe a little more libertarian approach that it's my land, I can do what I want to with it. But honestly, behind that, I think was decades of frustration of farmers. Again, when I was a kid, there were a lot of dairy farmers still in upstate New York. I mean, this area had plenty of dairy farms. Red Creek Farm was an active milking farm. I can remember the milk truck on Pink Street looking across the valley in the morning and seeing it through the fog and there's just not anymore. The farmers have been really shut down by the big milk aggregates in the western part of the state, and they can't get good enough milk prices to make a living. And so, I understand the farmers have had it pretty rough in this area for a couple of decades now.

And so, for them, I think the opportunity to make some money off of their land was a godsend. You know some of these people were worried about having their farms foreclosed and losing them and here comes these companies that are willing to pay a pretty good chunk of money for a pretty good amount of time just to drill some holes in their land and supposedly not affect the surface at all. So, I understood that and those were really the things that people were bringing up.

It was easier for me to deal with the people who were talking about the history of farming and the financial difficulties that they had, because again, these are my neighbors. You know, I grew up with their kids, I teach their kids, I get that. I understand that putting food on your table and for a farmer, turning your land into your money, I know that connection. It was a lot harder for me to deal with somebody who was just taking [the] libertarian [view] it's my land I'll do whatever the **** I want with it. That was a lot harder for me to deal with because I couldn't understand that perspective because that seemed to fly in the face of the farmer, being the steward of the land.

To me the steward of the land is somebody who's looking out for it, and I think my own perspective is that these oil companies came to these people and told them, don't worry, it's not going to hurt your land. You're still doing a good job. It's basically free money. And I think that's why a lot of the farmers kind of initially were going for this was because they didn't see that there was any way it could be harmful to their land. And I do definitely know some farmers who, as they saw more of the science, moved away from that position. But I also saw some who moved very truculently in the other direction towards the “’it's my land, I'll do whatever the hell I want with it,’” and that's the kind of position that's harder to argue with.

At the same time, you saw the same thing on the other side of the issue. You saw people who could appreciate the concern of the farmers and their plight and could appreciate that something needed to be done for the farmers to maybe help them so they didn't have to accept these offers from the fracking companies. But then there were also people who were just “‘you're destroying the earth,’” the kind of the hardcore environmentalists, which is a terrible way to frame them, but there were people that were much more in that camp of “I'm here to stop you no matter what,” and I don't care what your problem is. You're destroying the earth.

[TRACK 2 18:53]

And it was those voices kind of on the outer side of the perimeter that were making things difficult for [us] to have a decent conversation about it and that was why I stopped doing that. It was the same thing, I’ll give you a really dumb example; when I was doing my master's degree in Ohio, a guy found out that I was from Cooperstown and asked, hey, would you ever be interested in umpiring for Little League? We always need umpires, which of course I knew, just because I was from Cooperstown didn't really mean anything, but I know enough about baseball, so I said I'd think about it. So, I agreed to umpire for a couple of games, and I found the kids to be great. You know eight year old kids playing baseball, boys and girls having a good time.

And those parents were monsters. I mean the parents were heckling these kids and yelling at these kids and getting into fights and yelling at coaches and threatening. I mean, it was just, I did two games and said, you know what? I cannot do this. And of course, it's not most of the parents, it's the one idiot over there and the one idiot over there that pushed the mob in, and that's entirely what it felt like to me. It was like, oh my God, this is Little League all over again and so I got out of the moderation business after that. I said enough.

Hasn't stopped me thinking about politics, but I'm a little jaded to the throwing my hat in the ring thing. I've also seen how some of the politicians here get treated by others.

My mom, I'm biased, my mom was on the village board in Cooperstown and then she was a County Representative. And when she was running for her second term of County Representative, I got these things in the mail that were so packed full of ******** about her. I mean, I know my mom pretty well. She was a teacher in Cooperstown, well respected and one of the parties in town published this absolute poisoned crap about her right before the election. And I, it was heartbreaking for her, you know, because she took public service very seriously and that that turned her off of it, she never ran again after that.

And that shouldn't happen. That's ridiculous. If they want to do that on the national level, go ahead. You want to sling mud that's fine, [but] you're talking about your neighbors. You're talking about the people who teach your children. That's inexcusable. That's not how people should behave.

[TRACK 2 21:39]

Wow. So, just to kind of finish this up then, do you feel it's important to be an engaged member in a local community?

Absolutely. I am still very much an engaged member in my community. I've just kind of changed how I go about doing it. I certainly feel that it's important to discuss issues, especially local issues. I think it's important to take a side, but to be reasonable when you take a side that you have to still keep an open enough mind to consider that maybe your opinion isn't perfect. I think it's important to fight for things in our community. Nowadays I do that more on the level of school than anything else.

When I was doing the fracking stuff, I wasn't teaching in Cooperstown, I was teaching in Laurens, and so I was working for my community in Cooperstown in a very different way. Now when I fight for things, I tend to fight for things for the kids of Cooperstown. That's where most of my energy is going to go. And I like to think well, that's the future of the town. But ultimately, I know that most of our kids do move away. But even so, I still think that's kind of an important thing to send out to the world. At least Cooperstown can export decent human beings. That's kind of important to me.

And I do, you know, I still speak up. I still go to meetings, not as frequently as I used to perhaps, to make sure that I understand the issues that I can discuss them intelligently, and that I can form a good opinion about them. That is still very important to me.

And I have not ruled out entirely; I've been asked a couple times to consider running for a local office and I haven't done it yet, because I don't think that I can fit it in my schedule, but when I retire from teaching, I might think about that.

You know it's funny, I was never big on writing letters to politicians because I always kind of assumed that they weren't going to read them. I think we're at a point now that if you actually write a letter you're much more likely to get read than if you send an email or a text or something like that, which I understand that too. You know that somebody puts in more effort.

[TRACK 2 24:24]

A couple years ago I was playing for, I probably shouldn't mention the politician’s name, I was playing for an event that a local politician was at and at the event, one of the people that I was playing with when we took a break basically cornered this politician and harassed him over an upcoming vote. And the politician did not agree with him and was pretty upset that at his event he got kind of cornered that way by one of the musicians of the group. And I remember watching that and finding that to be kind of curious and it was one that thankfully this guy voted against. It was about gay marriage in New York State. He voted against it and then thankfully that vote did pass in New York State later, even though this guy continued to vote against it, and of course if you publish that people are going to figure out exactly who I'm talking about, and that's OK. I like this guy very much. I've had many pleasant interactions with him, and even though he's in a political party that I'm not real fond of, most of the time he's a really good human being and he's done a lot of great work for the people in our area, and I respect that.

My involvement turned more into, again, for the kids. An example because we're recording, so why not? You can use it or not. In Sidney, about 10 years ago when I was still the band director in Cooperstown and doing jazz band, I'm on chorus now, but I was still the band director then, I was invited to conduct kind of an all-star jazz band. And we had five students from Cooperstown that actually got accepted to it back then. I had a really good jazz band. These are some of the kids I took to New Orleans. We had five kids get in. Now they were going to pay me 500 bucks to conduct this thing and to be the conductor. The cost for the kids was only $25 each, it was cheap. And it required three rehearsals and then a fourth day where we went down, rehearsed and did the concert. And so, I said to the school, because I was naive about these things, “‘All right, have the kids' parents write a note that they can ride with me, and it won't cost anything to send them, and it'll be 125 bucks and they can go to the to do this great thing and they'll be done with it.’” Well, of course that's not the way it works, because in New York State the law says that anything that's a school [event], it has to be school provided transportation. Technically, kids shouldn't even ride home after basketball games with their parents, but they do, OK, and all schools do that, by the way, I'm not trying to get Cooperstown into trouble. I was told no, you can't do that. You’ve got to have a bus.

OK, so we’ve got to pay for a bus to go to Schenevus, to go to Sidney four times and back. So that's about an hour each way on a bus, probably. Got to pay for a driver four times and back and we’ve got to pay for the driver while we're rehearsing because that's part of the deal. Oh, and because of the union regulations there has to be a teacher chaperone on that bus [too] and we have to pay that person. So they were telling me that basically I could either ride the bus and they would have to pay me even though it's already getting paid to do this thing from the group because that's what the contract says, or we had to find somebody else to do it.

So, the cost went from $125.00 to over $1,600. They didn't have the money; they didn't do it. I was furious. I thought that's the dumbest thing I ever heard. Five kids missed out on a great opportunity entirely because of bureaucracy and because of potential litigation over liability. I was furious, and I wrote to [State Senator] Jim [Seward], and I wrote him a letter and I know that he read it because the next time I saw him, he mentioned it to me, and he said, you know, ‘Is there some way we can solve this problem? There is no reason that we can't make a nice form that says I trust this teacher to drive my student and drive carefully. And if they get into an accident, the teacher is not liable unless they're doing something stupid. Fine if I'm drinking, I should still be liable, whatever. You know that as long as I'm being responsible, if an accident happens, the school can't be sued. I can't be sued. Is there not some way that we can put that into the law?’

And he said it's a great idea, but it's not really very doable. And he said it's not something that's going to happen. And that's the kind of thing that I would want to fight for. That's the kind of thing that is just ridiculous. Schools lose so many good opportunities for kids because they can't afford to do them because they have to pay for stuff which is dumb. You know flat out dumb. You were in education, you know that. That's more of what I look at these days in terms of the fights that need to need to happen.

Well, I just want to say....

[START OF TRACK 3, 00:00:00]

...thank you very much.

Oh, absolutely.

[END OF TRACK 3, 00:00:02]
Upstate New York
Cooperstown, NY
1969 - Present
John York
Cooperstown Graduate Program, State University of New York-College at Oneonta
Cooperstown Graduate Association, Cooperstown, NY
27.4 mB
42.4 mB
1.31 mB
Track 1, 01:30 - Growing Up in Cooperstown
Track 1, 12:30 - Music Education
Track 1, 20:53 - Teaching Music
Track 2, 01:54 - Changes to Cooperstown Through the Years
Track 2, 08:52 - Fracking
Track 2, 21:39 - Community Involvement