AJ Cook hired as GRC’s new band director


Smoke Signals photo

AJ and Emily Cook have joined the GRC family

Since AJ Cook was a youngster, he has dreamed of leading a large band program with a rich tradition. His dream is coming true just three years into his career.

GRC welcomes Cook as its new band director, along with his wife, Emily, who has been hired as a math teacher.

Cook comes to GRC from the Cumberland County School District where he has been high school and middle school band director for three years. He led the marching band to a third place finish in the Kentucky Music Educators Association Class A state finals this past season, the best finish in school history.

“I remember as I grew up, my dad always talked about the great GRC program so it’s been one of my dream jobs ever since I was young,” he said. “Being a Class 5A Band director is a unique challenge that I have always wanted to take on, and I’m very excited it’s happening now and happening here. The GRC program could be one of the premiere programs in the state and that’s my goal.”

Cook graduated in 2017 from Western Kentucky University, where he was a member of the Marching Band, Symphonic Band, Wind Ensemble, Jazz Band, Orchestra, Percussion Ensemble, and Steel Band.

Hired as band director at Cumberland County after graduation, he progressed the marching band up each year, from 12th place (2017) to 6th place (2018) to 3rd place in state finals in 2019.

Most significantly, Cook built the 6th-12th band program into a sought-after experience in Cumberland County. Though the district had no beginning 6th grade band when Cook arrived, the program now boasts a 25 percent participation rate of the entire middle and high school population.

“I am really proud of my students and the growth I saw in the three years at Cumberland,” he said. “They worked so hard to make state finals this past season and it was a great experience to see them achieve that.”

AJ’s wife of six months, Emily, was involved with the band at Cumberland, writing drill and teaching color guard. She will teach math at GRC.

The search for a new band director began immediately after Michael Payne announced his departure in June after seven years at GRC.

“I have big aspirations for the concert bands, marching band, percussion ensemble, and jazz band and plan to continue the great work Mr. Payne has done,” Cook said. “I am really excited about using our performing ensembles as a mechanism to get out into the community and further the name of the GRC Band program. I can’t wait to get going, especially meeting the students and forming great relationships.”