Mr. Simon Kooyman was born on November 29, 1882 and spent his first 25 years in his native Holland where he received his education in music and became a resort band director at a beach resort in Wyk-an-Zee, Holland. He spent the next 8 years in the West Indies as a band leader of the Medan (Somatran) City band and orchestra.
When Mr. Kooyman finally came to the United States in 1914 he travelled extensively leading bands in Indiana, South Dakota, Illinois and Texas before finally coming to Clarksdale, MS in 1926. It was here in Clarksdale that he truly hit his stride. Mr. Kooyman started the first Clarksdale High School band in 1926 and by 1928 had initiated the organization of the Mississippi Bandmaster Association as well as the first Mississippi State band contest the same year.
(Clarksdale Junior Band: Clarksdale, MS; Directed by S. Kooyman)
In 1931 he was honored with induction into the American Bandmasters Association with what has been described as the “highest grade made on the entrance exam”. He served the state of Mississippi as the District VII Orchestra Chairman for the Department of Education Examining Board which issued licenses to music teachers and was elected in 1933 as the Corresponding Secretary for the Mississippi Bandmaster Association.
In 1938 he was selected to be a guest conductor for the LSU School of Music Symphony Orchestra which included, among other pieces, an orchestration of Mr. Kooyman’s own “Ole Miss March”.
When he retired in 1948 Mr. Kooyman had spent 22 years in the Clarksdale Public School system. Even after retiring he was not a man to sit idle. He began working part-time for the Clarksdale Printing Company as a lithographer as well as continuing to host Sunday Musicales, get-togethers every Sunday at he and his wife’s home in which he would invite young musicians to come spend a couple of hours playing chamber music (much of it composed or arranged by Kooyman himself).
In September of 1948, only months after retiring, he was invited to be a guest conductor for the Union Band of Memphis.
In 1951 Clarksdale declared March 16 as ‘Simon Kooyman Day’ in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Clarksdale High School Band. The celebration included a performance by the high school band under the guest conducting of Palmer J. Myram (a former student of Kooyman’s), a performance by the Clarksdale Alumni Band conducted by Kooyman himself and a ‘gala’ dance. More than 700 showed up to honor Kooyman and his service to Clarksdale.
In September of the same year the Band Division of the Mississippi Music Educators’ Association honored Mr. Kooyman by unanimously electing him to a lifetime membership which would allow him unhindered access to all clinics, camps and conferences.
Mr. Kooyman enjoyed surprisingly good health even into his later years. In 1953 he was hit by a motor vehicle while crossing a street in Clarksdale. He suffered minor back jarring and a fractured arm but was not considered to be in any serious health danger. He was 70 years old. The driver of the vehicle was arrested and charged with reckless driving and driving without a license.
(Photo of Simon Kooyman and woman believed to be his wife)
When Mr. Kooyman died on December 16, 1963 it came on suddenly. He was taken to Memphis, TN where he died that morning. He was 81 years old and had been at work the day previous to his death. In memory of their great teacher many previous students gathered to pay homage. He was spoken of in the highest esteem and was referred to as a man who “liked perfection – and got it” as well as a man “…of the highest integrity.”
(Black and white photo of portrait painted by Marshall Bouldin)
A large portrait of Simon Kooyman was commissioned by the Clarksdale High School Band Alumni Association and was painted by Clarksdale’s renowned portrait artist Marshall Bouldin. The painting was donated in 1999 to the Carnegie Public Library in Clarksdale where it now hangs outside the Mississippi Room that holds city, county and state archives and records.
Mr. Kooyman left a legacy of great music in the Clarksdale school systems not only at Clarksdale High School but he also took an interest in the Coahoma County Agricultural High School band which was directed at the time by Consuella Carter (would is referred to as the first female band director in the south after her appointment as band director for the new Coahoma County Junior College band in 1949). He contributed arrangements and compositions for the Aggies as well as coordinating with Carter to host several clinics.
Simon Kooyman is a rich part of the Clarksdale history that has seemingly been forgotten to time. Though not from here originally he settled into Clarksdale and made it his own and built a musical community like none Clarksdale had seen before. His memory lives on in the continuation of the bands that he helped start and the music he composed.
In 1951, at the 25th anniversary celebration the Board of Supervisors and Commissioners adopted a resolution stating:
“Whereas Simon Kooyman, who established and founded the Clarksdale High School band in 1926, has, more than any other one person, been responsible for the remarkable development of high school bands not only in the city of Clarksdale and in Coahoma County but in the state of Mississippi as well; and
“Whereas Mr. Kooyman has, in addition to imparting a genuine love of fine music to his many pupils, been a great factor in moulding and developing fine traits of character in all who have in the past been associated with him….”