Music Education That Makes the Heart Sing

We’ve all had that teacher. The one who notices our innermost potential, the one who, somehow, manages to see that potential in us when we remain mysteriously incapable of seeing it in ourselves. These teachers are unyielding, driven, compassionate. They know that the future relies on the fact that the next generation be well-educated, no matter the subject or discipline. Education in this country is in dire need of reform, and due to pressures from the national government, no group of subjects has been more stripped down than the arts.

No one is arguing that mathematics and the sciences are unimportant, but the arts and humanities deserve an equal footing in that pantheon. Lauded innovator Steve Jobs once said, “It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough – it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.”As a way to honor those immortal words and as a means to reward the educators who are combating this trend to reduce arts programs, the                                                                                                                                   foundation created the GRAMMY Music Educator Award in 2014. From their website:

Penelope Quesada. Courtesy photo.

Penelope Quesada. Courtesy photo.

“For every performer who makes it to the GRAMMY stage, there was a teacher who played a critical role in getting them there. And really, that’s true for all of us who are making music today. Maybe they introduced you to your first instrument. Or they showed you how to get over your stage fright. Or maybe they just inspired you to have the confidence to go for it when you were ready to give up.

It’s time to say thank you to ALL of those teachers who put in ALL of those hours to make sure that ALL of us love and play music today! We’ll select 10 finalists including one winner each year to be recognized for their remarkable impact. The winner will be flown to Los Angeles to accept the Award and attend the GRAMMYs, plus pick up a $10,000 honorarium. All finalists will receive a $1,000 honorarium as well.

Make your thanks real by nominating your teacher today!”

As luck would have it – or perhaps, more accurately, hard work and dedication to her students – Louisville’s own Penelope Quesada is not only nominated for the award but also one of the 10 finalists. Originally from Peru, Quesada went to school at the Music Conservatory in Lima. Later, she completed her B.A in music as well as a master’s in flute performance at the University of Louisville. She is certified as a music teacher by the Kentucky Department of Education. She has taught at Lincoln Elementary as the Orff Instrumental Music teacher for 15 years and was named the recipient of the JCPS Music Teacher of the Year Award in 2013.

Her list of accreditations is long. Quesada is certified in World Music Pedagogy by the Smithsonian Folkways Institute as well as certified as a music educator of Orff Schulwek, a teaching philosophy created by Carl Orff. It is an approach to learning music through movement, engaging in creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking. All of these happen through playing because the belief is that children learn better by doing and experimenting than by lecturing. “This unique approach to music education involves all students in a daily study of speech (through poems and stories), rhythm, instruments (Orff instruments, drums and small percussion instruments), singing, creative movement and improvisation,” informs Quesada who completed her certification at the University of Kentucky and Carnegie Mellon University.

For Quesada, becoming a music educator was more than just an occupational choice; it was a calling.

“I wanted to make a difference in the lives of children the same way my music teacher did it for me,” she describes. “I believe that music education has the power to create community, and that must be accessible to all. I wasn’t very successful academically, but luckily, my music teacher encouraged me to discover my musical talents. I am forever grateful for what he taught me and for his dedication. I finally felt that I was successful at something. That moment marked my life in such a positive way because it gave me back my self-esteem.”

This attention from her music teacher is perhaps why, at the age of 13, Quesada created a recorder ensemble at her school. Her love for teaching others the joy of music was sparked there.

A typical day for Quesada begins with her at school at 7:45 a.m., preparing her room for the day. She teaches six classes per day from kindergarten to fifth grade. Her school has 498 students, the population very diverse, including students from all over the world. Quesada found out in early October of this year that she had been nominated for the GRAMMY Music Educator Award by one of the parents of her many students.

Quesada’s plan is to keep doing the job that she loves: being a music teacher. As deserving as Quesada is, she remains humble. She knows she is one of many who are dedicated to enriching the lives of students with music and the arts:

“It is hard for me to say that I should win the award as I am sure the other nominees work very hard and are very dedicated as well. I want to say thank you to the GRAMMY Foundation for creating this inspiring award that values the hard work of so many music teachers in our nation. I am incredibly humbled to be recognized, especially working in a district that has so many amazing and dedicated music teachers. I feel so lucky to work with such passionate students that LOVE music and teach me every day to be a better teacher. I am extremely lucky to be in a profession that changes children’s lives in a positive way. And I am very lucky to teach what I love.”

Win or lose, with music educators like Quesada in the world – those whose most treasured educational moments take place when they see their students work and support each other, who see that music helps them become successful and reach their potential – it becomes easier and easier to have hope for the future. Steve Jobs was right. That’s enough to make any heart sing. VT

Nominations for the 2017 Music Educator Award are now open at www.grammymusicteacher.com.