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‘Music is about saying things without words’

Meet the future: Elijah Cosby

Name: Elijah Cosby
School: Northview High School
Jam: Music

Northview — Senior Elijah Cosby plays virtually every percussion instrument, including drum set, marimba, xylophone and timpani. He is lead snare drum in jazz and concert bands, and is section leader in the marching band. As a side gig after school, he plays with the Grand Rapids Community College’s jazz band and jazz combo. And he just may be after his uncle’s job.

How old were you when music became something you wanted to pursue, and what’s the story there? There’s always been musical accompaniment to Elijah’s life. His grandfather, Max Colley Jr., is a former, 40-year band director at Northview High (the school’s performing arts center is named for him). Elijah remembers him playing piano at family gatherings. His uncle, Max Colley III, a district alum, is jazz events coordinator at Michigan State University, and Elijah recalls attending a ceremony when he was very young honoring Colley III as musician of the year.

Elijah’s earliest memory playing music: “Around the third grade, I told my mom I wanted to be a drummer. I must have been coloring, because I had markers in my hands. I started hitting them, and must have been pretty hard because they started to bleed on my other toys.”  

He began taking piano and drum lessons soon after, and in fifth grade began learning classical percussion.

A few related accomplishments: Elijah was invited as an eighth-grader to play with the high school jazz band when they performed at a national festival. Personal highlights include earning the John Phillips Sousa band award in eighth grade, being selected as best drummer runner-up in 2020 at the MSU jazz festival and having played with the NVHS jazz band at the Detroit Music Festival. 

He also earned a spot over thousands of applicants this year to be part of the all-state jazz band and concert band. He could only do one, so he chose jazz band, since he was in all-state concert band his sophomore year. He was selected for all-state orchestra ensemble last year, but that didn’t take place because of the pandemic. 

“I don’t know of any other high-school student who has been selected to perform in all three state ensembles,” band Director Gregory Wells said.

Elijah Cosby at the high school marching band state finals this school year at Ford Field (courtesy)

Do you plan to pursue this professionally? Elijah has applied both to Michigan State and Western Michigan universities, and will audition soon. Ten years from now, he’d like to have maybe released an album, and also be giving lessons or have a teaching job, preferably at a high school. Wells already has had him lead some rehearsals. 

“He’s thrown me into the fire sometimes,” said Elijah with a chuckle. “I’m excited to do pretty much anything that relates to music. I want to play on my own, and also help people realize their passion for music just as my teachers did for me.”

Speaking of teachers who have had an impact… Elijah indicated no shortage of mentors, including a third-grade music teacher who recommended him to sing with the Grand Rapids Choir of Men & Boys; middle-school band Director Mark Lago, who “did a great job of making band super fun;” recently retired middle-school band teacher Joyce Antel; and school drumline leader Nathan Thomas, with whom Elijah currently is taking lessons. “I’ve definitely learned more technically from (Thomas) than anybody else.” 

And, oh, there’s also Director Wells. “I’ve known Mr. Wells my whole life; he’s my uncle. I’ve had him for two hours of my school day for the past four years. So it’s been a long time since I’ve called him Uncle Greg.”

Other hobbies/interests/little-known talent: “I like reading and watching fantasy a lot. I really like math and science. I take AP physics, astronomy, calculus… that’s always very interesting to me, seeing how science and math is portrayed in books and movies.” 

The biggest lesson you have learned from your involvement in music is… “It’s not about yourself. The music I want to create is stuff I wouldn’t be able to create by myself. And you can’t get people to feel what you want them to feel with that music by yourself, like, the percussionist needs the piano player to lay down the color tones. Music is about saying things without words. It’s a team sport in every sense of the word. Some of the best feelings in my life are making powerful music with people I love.”

If you walked into your school building to theme music, what would the song be? “Traveler” by Aaron Parks. “It starts with this weird drum high-hat groove, and there’s a piano part that goes on top of it, and a polyrhythm… It’s very abstract, but yet I knew where it was going.”

Explore more unique video stories of students learning, interesting school programs and educators working to help all children succeed.

Making a joyful noise in the great outdoors (Nathan Colley)
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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering Kent ISD, Forest Hills and Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio

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