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UWRF professor turns hobby into music career

April 1, 2015

Faculty members at UW-River Falls have very little free time outside the university because the strenuous workload that comes with a full-time teaching occupation, but animal and food science Professor Dennis Cooper found a gratifying hobby that has slowly evolved since high school: music.

Cooper, a member of the UWRF graduate faculty who graduated from the University of Minnesota with a Ph.D. in animal science in 1981, is also known by some as the “Doq of Roq” in his musical circles. Doq of Roq is Cooper’s synonymous stage and band name.

The Doq of Roq, a four-piece eclectic cover band which includes David Markson on bass, Greg Wells on keyboard, Mike Cooper on guitar, and Cooper on guitar and lead-vocals, mostly plays music from the 50s, 60s and 70s.

“What I like are all the styles that were popular in the 50s, 60s and 70s and beyond,” Cooper said. “I do a lot of 60s stuff, I do a lot of soul, a lot of blues, a lot of R&B, some country, some rock, folk, folk rock, stuff like that.”

The Doq of Roq can be seen and heard at Junior’s Bar & Restaurant on occasion. Cooper last played at Junior’s on March 6, where he and his band played an array of songs which included Van Morrison’s 1967 classic “Brown Eyed Girl;” Harry Belafonte’s 1957 “Jamaica Farewell,” also made famous by Jimmy Buffett; and the 1967 hit “To Love Somebody” by the Bee Gees.

Despite the fact that Cooper has over 160 songs in his inventory that he can play at any time, his musical beginnings can partially be rooted back to a place one might not expect: a karaoke party.

“I went to karaoke party with friends, a private party, and I sang something by The Drifters and I saw the recording, and I thought ‘that’s pretty good, you know, I guess I can sing.’”

Cooper comes from a musical family that “would sing around the piano,” and he eventually took up guitar lessons in high school when he was interested in folk music. Cooper slowly crafted his guitar skills while at the University of Minnesota where he earned three degrees before starting at UWRF in 1985.

“I played in college for friends at campfires and parties and stuff like that. I sort of limped along with that for a long time, well into my adulthood,” Cooper said. “I always had this sort of peripheral interest but really didn’t have much confidence, I didn’t think I was any good.”

Cooper began to gain more confidence in his musical abilities after singing the blues with his brother Mike, who belongs to an adult garage band called the George Hottinger Blues Band based in St. Paul, Minnesota. Cooper joined the band and evolved into the lead singer over a five-year span.

“It was a great learning experience,” Cooper said. “I found out I could do it. I lost my fear of getting up in front of people and singing.”

The Doq of Roq has also played shows in nearby Spring Valley, Wisconsin; Hudson, Wisconsin; and Lakeland, Minnesota, as of late. Cooper’s band plays approximately six to eight times a year, depending on availability and popular demand.

“I’ve been doing paid gigs here in the last 10 years or so but they’re fairly modest,” Cooper said.

Cooper has begun writing lyrics, thus creating original songs. He has been playing three original songs at recent shows. He also has experience on the bass and keyboards.

“Bass I play, I’m rusty at it now because I haven’t played it for a while,” Cooper said. “I can play some things on the keyboards; there’s a couple things I’m really good at and that’s it.”

Cooper also writes lyrics and sings a song for the graduating seniors of the UWRF Dairy Club, but only select UWRF faculty members and a very small number of students know about Cooper’s musical abilities.

“I try to keep [my music] separate from the university,” Cooper said. “With faculty, I don’t want to pressure people or to bully any expectations on them. [Music] is just something I do outside the university, but if they want to come and they enjoy it, that’s fine, I’m glad to have them there.”

Cooper hasn’t tried to encourage his students to attend his shows, because he wants to keep his profession separate from his musical hobby. He acknowledged, though, that posters can be found around town and that students can easily find information about the Doq of Roq.

“I think it would probably be kind of a freaky experience for some of the students I have in class, them seeing me in this other light, in this other role, and I think that might be hard to compute,” Cooper said. “My primary relationship is with them in class and I just don’t know that I’m ready to consider the ramifications of a lot of students [attending shows].”

Speaking in front of a large number of students has helped Cooper defeat stage-fright, and performing on stage has helped Cooper relax and be more spontaneous in the classroom. Cooper said that friends and colleagues have expressed envy of his musical hobby.

“I think it could be a good hobby for someone throughout their life,” Cooper said. “Advice I would give to students is, if they have an interest in music, start earlier than I did—don’t wait until you’re basically middle-aged.”