Last night during the televised 55th Annual Grammy Awards show, two big music celebrities joined Recording Academy President and CEO Neil Portnow on stage to announce the creation of the Music Educator Award, the presentation of which will begin in 2014. Justin Timberlake—who gave a highly entertaining performance during the show—and Ryan Seacrest offered some very supportive comments for the efforts of music teachers. Timberlake expressed thanks to those who taught him, and called teachers “the unsung heroes of our creative community” (note: “unsung” was probably not an intended pun!). Seacrest noted that for every Grammy winner, “there are thousands of great music educators, working behind the scenes to provide the inspiration, the passion, and the skills our young musicians need.” You can read a transcript of the announcement here.
As they concluded their message, the website www.grammymusicteacher.com was displayed on the screen. I soon visited the site and found some useful information, including several online forms for nominating people for the award. I also noted at the bottom of the site a statement that this new Music Educator Award is supported by the National Association for Music Education (NAfME), as well as the NAMM Foundation. While on the site, I clicked on and took a look at all the various nomination forms. The ones for school administrators, recording academy members, and the general public were all quite similar; they mainly ask for the contact info of the nominee and nominator. The music teacher self-nomination form, however, solicits much more information. I expect that teachers who are nominated by someone else will eventually be directed to this online location. The first page of the form requests contact info, as well as estimates of demographic data for the teacher’s school (e.g., enrollment figures, urban/suburban/rural classification, racial makeup). The second page gets very interesting. It presents a number of position statements about music teaching, to which the teacher indicates his or her agreement. Ones that particularly grabbed my attention include:
- Large Ensemble performances are a major factor in determining the success of a music program.
- A successful music program should be determined by the number of students who make music their career.
- It is important to create musical opportunities that generate interest to a broader student population.
- Competition events are essential for student motivation.
This page of the application also asks teachers to indicate how often their instruction provides opportunities for improvisation, audiation, and singing (in instrumental rehearsals), as well as attention to music theory, historical context, and the business of music.
The final page of the self-nomination form asks a series of yes-or-no questions about the teacher’s values and priorities in the classroom. For example:
- Do you provide instruction in multiple genres despite the possibility or probability of overall performance quality suffering?
- Do you place emphasis on helping students acquire life skills as well as musical skills?
- Do you emphasize playing/singing by ear as central to becoming an excellent singer/player?
- Do you emphasize the reading of music as central to becoming an excellent singer/player?
The last item on the entire form is a field into which the teacher can state, in 50 words or less, one compelling reason why he or she should be considered for the award.
The questions and items on the nomination form suggest that the Grammys will be considering some important things when choosing music educators to recognize with this award. I’m glad to see attention will be paid to some of the issues I care so much about, such as creativity/improvisation, playing by ear, student motivation, and broadening the musicianship of teachers and students. It remains to be seen exactly how the Grammys will use and evaluate the data they collect from teachers. It appears that they may be trying to identify music educators who successfully use innovative and more individualized approaches with their students. Of course, as much as I count myself as a progressive in the field of music education, I hope that teachers who also maintain excellence in traditional school music pursuits are not somehow excluded from consideration. The Grammy Music Educator Award FAQ says that initial applications will be electronically scored and ranked, then semi-finalists will submit supplementary materials which a screening committee will review. Then a “Blue Ribbon Committee” will select finalists and recommend a winner. I can find no indication of who will comprise the committee(s). Ultimately, I hope that “Grammy-winning teachers” are selected with much input of highly qualified music educators. Perhaps this is where NAfME’s involvement will come into play.
I encourage everyone to visit the www.grammymusicteacher.com website and nominate a music educator whom you know to be doing great things for students. There are plenty out there, and I plan to submit more than a few nominations myself. Of course it would be virtually impossible for the Grammys to identify the most deserving music teacher, even if one such person were to exist. But still I am looking forward to hearing about whoever is honored with the first Music Educator Award a year from now. Hopefully it will be someone whose story will inspire other teachers and students, and raise awareness of the great value of music education.
Copyright 2013 Robert H. Woody
Source of image: www.grammy.com – photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images