A gift for music: Birthday present turns into musical pursuit

Casey Cook's husband bought her a keyboard for her birthday at the beginning of the pandemic. She taught herself to play, and has become a familiar face on the local music circuit. She's one of the opening acts for the Lake Fest music festival on Sept. 11.

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September 3, 2021 - 5:28 PM

Casey Cook celebrated her 35th birthday in May of 2020, during the most intense days of the COVID-19 lockdown.

She had been working as a paraprofessional in the Crest school district when classes were canceled that spring. She also was the high school’s head softball coach, and had high hopes for a season that would never materialize.

She helped her children with their school work at home, and took care of other children whose parents had to work during the shutdown.

Her husband, Jeremy, wanted to buy her a very special birthday gift: a keyboard.

Casey Cook performs at the Allen County Fair with special guest Jake Riebel.Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

“She has always expressed the desire to take up piano lessons again, so when her birthday was coming up I thought the keyboard would be a good hobby to help fill her time,” he said.

Indeed, that gift would not only help Casey through the 

pandemic, it would turn into a passion for performing that continues more than a year later.

She’s becoming a familiar face on the local music scene, playing at the Allen County Farmers Market, the county fair and various local music venues.

Casey also will be one of the opening acts for Lake Fest, an annual music festival at the Elks Lake on Sept. 11. 

MUSIC has always been important to Casey. 

She took piano lessons for a year in seventh grade. In high school and college, she participated in band and choir. 

She tried to teach herself the guitar but “that didn’t seem like it was my thing.”

She’s always loved to sing, and often will leave “singing voicemails” for her friends when they don’t answer her calls.

But she never really expected her love of music to translate into performing. 

In fact, she’s not even sure what prompted her husband to give her a keyboard for her birthday.

“I might have mentioned that I would like to have one. And that’s how he is, he’ll remember something I said and surprise me,” she said. 

But those piano lessons were a long time ago. Casey looked up YouTube videos to teach herself how to play. 

“I started thinking of songs that I really loved and looked up tutorials for those. If it was too hard, I looked up another song,” she said. “I finally realized I have to learn the chords.”

The pandemic would play its hand again, forcing Casey to fast-track her skills.

She and her sisters had booked their mother’s favorite band to play at a birthday celebration in August 2020. Because of the pandemic, the band canceled. Casey and her older sister joined forces with a friend of her younger sister, and decided to perform instead. 

They learned and played six songs.

The first song she learned was “The Weight” by The Band, a 1968 song that her mother loved and was a favorite song of her uncle, who has passed away. 

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