Music is one of my passions.

I stream it. I play vinyl. I have a music library that will play nonstop for 40 days.

It started when I was maybe 8 years old. I listened to the AM radio stations in Boston – WRKO and WMEX; lots of Motown. The first song I knew I liked, I can still hear it: “Down in the Boondocks” by Billie Joe Royal. Still sounds good.

Also, at that time, along came Winola Cooper. Her name sounds like music. Win-O-La Coo-Per

Generations of school children shared the experience that was music education in the Rockland Schools. Everyone knew her.

Winola Cooper was the SAD #5 music teacher. She went from school to school, classroom to classroom, teaching music. Like a force of nature, Winola would whoosh into the room.

It was time for something different.

This very tall woman (likely due in part to thick high heels, which I later learned were called brogans) with a bold print dress, thick black-framed glasses and a wicker basket full to the top with musical instruments. Her presence was amazing.

As she placed her basket on the desk, the regular teacher beat it to the back of the classroom.


Each of us visualized in our heads the instrument we wanted to play. Most everything in the basket was of the percussion variety – blocks, tambourines and so on. Winola passed out the instruments, and I snatched the prize when the basket came around. I got the triangle.

Winola reached into a secret pocket sewn into her dress and pulled out a pitch pipe to set the chord. For us kids, it was like a dog looking at money on the sidewalk. We heard it, but did not know what to do next. It kept Winola on key.

I appreciate how old-school she was. What she presented was pure and authentic. One lesson stuck with me. The tonic chord. I cannot say I fully understand it, but I know it when I hear it in a song, and I know what it does. It makes me listen. Some would call it a hook.

Whether or not Winola is responsible I cannot say for sure, but I do have a thing for music. If I am in a grocery store, I know every song that plays down from the ceiling and am listening to it and thinking about it. I have an app on my phone that will tell me the song name and who the artist is, if I am ever unsure. Stray tracks of music I would pass over in my 20s, I am now ready to hear and explore.

Winola, in time, would hang up her basket of fun and retire from teaching. She became a tour guide at the William A. Farnsworth Homestead. She grew up next to it. She knew Lucy Farnsworth. Her tours were inspirational for her passion and personal one-of-a-kind anecdotes. She passed away in 1996.

Winola Cooper always hit the right note.

Winola Cooper Courtesty of Rockland Historical Society