Many schools celebrate a "grandparents day" but if Kent Knappenberger wins, it will be "Grammy Day at Westfield Academy and Central School."
Knappenberger is one of 10 finalists to receive the very first Music Educator Award presented by the Recording Academy and the Grammy Foundation.
Knappenberger, who teaches a variety of music classes to grades 6-12 at Westfield, was one of 30,000 initial nominees for the award. He actually received three independent nominations, two from former students, Chris Reese and Lindsay Kaufman, and one from the parent of a student, Kelly Deland.
Kent Knappenberger, far right, is pictured with his wife, Nannette, far left, and some of their children. Ken has been nominated for the first ever Music Educator Award, presented by The Recording Academy and the Grammy Foundation.
Nominees were required to submit an essay covering a variety of questions such as their philosophy of music, how they meet the challenges of their work and the impact they feel they have had on their students and community. Knappenberger sent his essay to a former professor who now teaches in Finland. "He sent them back and said: 'go ahead.' So I did get a second opinion about what I said."
The Grammy foundation reports that 5,000 nominees submitted essays. From these, 217 quarter finalists were chosen. Knappenberger said he was astounded to find out he was among them. "I remember reading the e-mail that said I was a quarter-finalist and saying: 'No, really?'"
The next hurdle was to write another essay or to submit a six-minute video. Knappenberger wrote his essay and then had himself videotaped presenting it. A former student added pictures and video clips that illustrated his work at the school.
In December, Knappenberger was notified that he was one of the ten finalists for the award. If chosen, he will be flown to Los Angeles for the Special Merit Awards Ceremony and Nominees reception. The actual ceremony will take place the day before the televised Grammy Awards.
The winner will also receive a $10,000 honorarium. The other nine finalists will each receive a $1,000 honorarium and their school will receive a matching award.
The award is part of the Grammy in the Schools program developed by the Grammy Foundation to encourage young music artists. "I think it's kind of moving that a national organization decided to invest in schools," Knappenberger said. "Teachers have faced a lot of negative press. Ultimately, this is a big encouragement."
Several famous musicians may also be present at this reception, Knappenberger said. Both Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr have been invited to receive lifetime music awards. Also, the Italian composer Ennio Morricone may be present. "I just love him. I could meet him and that would just be too much," he said.
Also, country star Lee Brice may be present, whom many of his students are "crazy about," Knappenberger said. "In the reception afterward, I would have to meet him for my student's sake."
Knappenberger said his tastes in music have always been very eclectic ranging from Johannes Brahms to Five for Fighting. The artists he enjoys change from year to year. "This is the thing I like about my subject area something new is always happening," he said.
Knappenberger said his students are excited at the possibility he might win, but he sees it as a way to encourage them about their work in the music program. "I can tell students they're doing something good. Parents can tell them they're doing something good. But it's really different when there is an outside unrelated experience that says: 'You're really doing something good,'" he said.
A father of nine children, three of which still live at home, Knappenberger carries a full load of classes at Westfield. He teaches 6th grade choir, 7th and 8th grade boys singers, 9-12th grade chorus, chamber choir, a boys and a girls singing group, music classes for grades 9-12, four different hand bell ensembles, steel drum ensemble, voice classes, and the all-school musical.
He also teaches the Celtic American String Band, which was recently invited to perform in Hartford, CN at a national music festival.
"I grew up in a small school and it always seemed to me there should be some special opportunities we should be able to afford those kids without being a suburban school," he said. "We don't teach music the same way those communities do, but we have had just as much recognition."
Knappenberger said the administration at Westfield has always supported creative teaching, not only in music but across the board. "I'm privileged to work in a school where creative solutions that can benefit children are encouraged. My administrators take this approach with all teachers and it allows teachers to innovate and adapt creatively to kids' needs in very effective ways," he said. "My job is easy when the kids I teach show up in my classroom with a skill set, musical and otherwise, that sets the stage for more learning success."
In his video to the Grammy Foundation, he talked about his philosophy that students should become involved in their music, which can in turn transform their understanding of themselves. "In our school, musical education is a process in which to be engaged, create and by one's own action, make meaning. The musical outcome is not always predetermined and the actions of the student are important in controlling how things turn out. "Are we following a recipe or is there the excitement of many possibilities of success?" he said. "Helping young people feel musically competent can unlock the important key of liking music. In the construction of self, an adolescent will include 'musician' in the mix of who they are if they feel competent. We like things we can do."
As far as his impact on the community at large, Knappenberger said in his video that he tries to attune his lessons in a way that could flow out into the community. For instance, when he learned 20 years ago that there were three hand bell choirs at local churches, he began teaching hand bells to his students so that they could then become involved in their church and community hand bell ensembles.
The focus of his entire program is to create a place where students can belong in the school and the community, Knappenberger said in his video. "The music program at our school is a paradigm shift from a focus only on performing ensembles to include an overall experience of the general music class," he said. "We expanded the idea of music class to all levels of our high school with classes in every grade that culminate in college music credits. I think that, if musical education is going to survive, we are going to have to think about how we can help the general public become engaged with our subject area."
Yet despite how many people he teaches, Knappenberger always leaves room to learn himself. "I've been in Westfield a long time and I appreciate the fact that the school has been supportive in many ways through all the years when I was making more mistakes than doing things right... there's always going to be more to learn," he said.
A few years ago, Knappenberger said a student said: "Mr. K. I think that you think teenagers are fascinating." He thought about it and found he had to agree. "They really are. Some days it seems like they can do anything. The challenge is to help guide them, so that all their gifts get developed in a way that helps them and makes our world a little better."