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2017 Grammy Music Educator of the Year: From Hollywood Bowl to Head of the Class

“Performing can have an impact on people for a night, but teaching can have an impact for the rest of their lives.”

By Dr. Berger

How fitting it was to speak with Keith Hancock, the 2017 Grammy Educator of the Year award recipient about the importance of having a platform to vocalize the concerns of music education in this country. After all, Keith Hancock is a Choral teacher at Tesoro High School in Rancho Santa Margarita, CA and knows first-hand about the incredible effect of vocal harmony. Keith feels music education needs to be a fundamental part of every child’s education in the United States, but it starts with parents and teachers coming together to express their concerns at the local and federal level.

Hancock sees music technology as a driving force in bringing greater interest to the field. Classes in technology managed music platforms have increased in popularity allowing students who normally would not choose traditional music classes to explore the field. Kids who love pop music can begin to create and write musically, without disposing of traditional music education concepts.

Keith was first exposed to the grandeur of music performing at the Hollywood Bowl as a high school choral singer. The experience hooked him but never in his wildest dreams did he believe he would be a Grammy winner. Humbled and kind throughout the process, Keith has remained even-keeled even after being approached by Jason Mraz about a collaborative coral project with his students.

It’s the teaching that matters, and Keith still believes his best impact comes from instilling lifelong music learning skills at the high school level.


Dr. Berger: Keith, first off, congratulations!

Keith Hancock: Thank you so much. It’s quite an honor.

DB: To be the Grammy Music Educator of the Year ─ just the sound of that! I would imagine that even though you’ve been hearing it for a little while now, it probably still brings a smile to your face when you’re driving to work, am I right?

KH: For sure! Just to have your name be associated with the Grammy Awards is huge. I never even thought this would be a possibility for me growing up; this award didn’t even exist. I thought that winning a Grammy award is reserved for the stars that we hear on the radio, not teachers like me.

I’m pretty floored by it all still.

DB: You’ve gotten a lot of media coverage. I would imagine that, now, this gives you a platform ─ is that fair to say ─ for speaking about topics that are important to music education and the arts, in general?

KH: Definitely! I’ve had invitations to speak in Washington D.C. and up in Sacramento. I’m in California so I’ll be speaking at our state government – I’m going up there in May – and speaking about music education even locally.

Just last night, I was the keynote speaker for a big Yamaha music event. So a lot of doors are opening up and it’s given me a voice to share my views and speak about music education, its benefits, and why we need to keep it in our schools.

DB: Where are we with that? Give me your state of the union regarding music education which is often marginalized, sadly, along with many of the arts programs around the U.S.

Speaking of California, I spoke to one of the ten finalists for the Grammy award and he mentioned that in the community outside of the private school he was at, they haven’t had the arts for six years.

So what’s your perspective on where we are? What’s the reality?

KH: We’re definitely not where we need to be. Certainly, I think there are a lot of communities where it’s valued, treasured, honored, and respected; but it’s definitely not the norm.

Twenty-five percent of the schools in the U.S. have a choir, so that leaves seventy-five percent that don’t even have vocal music. And that’s just a small microcosm of the problem.

Even though Congress has come out this year and said, “Hey, we’re valuing music alongside all the other core subjects” which is great; we’re very excited about that. But it’s still not where it really needs to be.

So we’re still fighting. We’re still talking to legislators. We’re still talking to local government. We’re still trying to push for the funding to really take shape, because we can talk philosophy and how we all want music in the schools, but it really comes down to the decision makers and the people who really control the funding. They’re the ones who get to make the call if it’s going to be approved or not.

And so, we still need to do a better job of getting those people on board and saying, “This is something that is just a fundamental part of every child’s education in the U.S.”

DB: Influence can come from, obviously, top down or bottom up; and it seems to be that with technology’s integration into music education coming fast and furiously, that can actually impact, hopefully, what you’re talking about because it seems to be that more students are moving into and wanting to pursue music education even at the earlier levels of even grade school, because the use of technology is more engaging and it brings them in.

Can’t that drive influence that we have more and more students saying, “No, we need this” and, hopefully, as a result, their parents and caretakers are saying the same thing?

KH: For sure! There’s kind of a concerted effort ─ at least, in California right now ─ with career and technical education, and music is a part of that. I teach a commercial music class which kind of meets the needs of those kids who aren’t your traditional band, choir, orchestra kids. They’re the kids who are play at rock bands; they’re interested in music technology or music business. And we’re giving them an outlet.

That’s just one example. There are a lot of these types of classes that are popping up all up and down the state at, at least, the high school level.

There’s so much music that’s accessible now for even kids in elementary schools. So we’re seeing a lot of that come up, and that’s just giving more of a credibility to our case that people are being influenced that this is something that we need in the schools.

Parents are onboard. I think a lot of districts – at least, in the public school system – and a lot of the administration are going to listen to the parents because these are the people who are voting for them. As long as we keep the pressure on, we can continue to make music a viable part of the curriculum.

DB: Tell me about your path. You talked earlier about not ever imagining winning an award like the Grammy. Just speak about your path being a music educator. What was the turning point for you? Was it a mentor? Was it an experience growing up that sort of opened up your eyes to the possibilities and it was through music and that experience or was there a different path?

KH: It really was a significant event. I grew up with music. I played piano from an early age. I sang in choirs. I did a lot of musical theater growing up.

But when I was 16 years old, I had a really unique opportunity. I was invited to be part of a professional choir ─ the Orange County Master Chorale ─ to sing a performance of Mahler’s 8th Symphony at the Hollywood Bowl, this big humongous venue with tens of thousands of people.

It was the opening of the summer season. So it was just really exciting to be part of that, walking around the stage and seeing members of the LA Philharmonic playing some of the most gorgeous music I’d ever heard in my life.

And so, after that experience, I pretty much knew this was what I had to do; this was my calling.

It’s not just about performing for me. I loved performing growing up. I feel by performing, I can make an impact on people for a night, but teaching can have an impact for the rest of their lives.

And so, that experience really solidified the thought in me that I really wanted do choral music and I wanted to be a teacher. And the high school classroom seemed the perfect fit for me. And that’s just been confirmed time and time again, of course, most recently with the award but even throughout my first several years of teaching; I just knew that this was what I was supposed to do.

DB: What’s next for you? The sky’s the limit. We think about the Hollywood Bowl and that metaphor ─ an open-air environment where there really is no limitation to where sound and opportunity can go. What is next for you?

You’re still a very young man in your career. What’s exciting about how you can take something like this award and either provide positive influence or garner different opportunities for students?

KH: I’ve been getting college offers and things like that; and I really have no desire to leave my program. I love being in Tesoro. I love the community that I’m in.

Everything has been pointing to me to stay here, at least, as far as I can see, unless things change in my life radically. I really feel like this is my other home and I’m very happy here. I have no desire to leave. In terms of my own career aspirations, I have no desire to teach different levels or go on the road and perform and things like that.

More than anything, I think it’s opening up new opportunities for my students. It’s giving us a chance to perform with new people and to get to be part of unique projects. We’re performing next week with Jason Mraz and Five for Fighting as part of this big celebration concert. We’re going to be doing some recording later on.

I’d like to have my students get to participate in film scores. I’m talking to a composer who is working on that right now.

Certain projects like are super exciting. Obviously, the Grammy and all this recognition have kind of opened up some new avenues for me ─ and to be able to pursue some people. It kind of gives us some credibility in terms of working with some of the professionals in the field and getting to do some really cool performance and recording projects.

DB: It’s incredible. With those projects alone, your students must be over the moon, I know, excited for you but also that they get to sort of ride on this magical carpet ride.

So continued success! Congratulations again and what an honor to speak with you today. Thanks, Keith.

KH: Thank you.

About Keith Hancock

Keith Hancock has taught choral music for 15 years at Tesoro High School, where he directs more than 250 students in five curricular and four extra-curricular ensembles, and oversees the music production/audio engineering program. Last year, Hancock was selected as a Music Educator Award finalist and he was recently awarded as the Secondary Vocal Music Teacher of the Year for Orange County, California.

The Tesoro High School music program was chosen as one of 13 GRAMMY Signature Schools nationwide for 2015. Under his direction, the Tesoro High School Vocal Ensemble was invited to perform at the ACDA Western DivisionConference in 2012 and 2016, representing one of four high schools in the Western United States. The Tesoro choirs have performed to rave reviews in Spain, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, England, and Ireland, as well as Carnegie Hall in New York. In addition, ensembles under his direction have won two Golden State Choral Competitions and three Barbershop Harmony Society high school quartet championships.

A former faculty member at the Hall-Musco Conservatory of Music at Chapman University, Hancock has earned three degrees (summa cum laude). As a performer, he has sung at Carnegie Hall, the Hollywood Bowl, the Orange County Performing Arts Center, and with the Cypress Pops Orchestra, in addition to performing at various venues around Europe and Asia. Hancock has been married to his wife and fellow music teacher, Carly, since 2003. They have two sons, Joel and Chase.

More Keith Hancock on Twitter

This article was originally published on Huffington Post .

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