The power of music took center stage at the Country Music Association’s 2019 Music Teachers of Excellence event in Nashville on Tuesday (April 30).
For the fourth consecutive year, the CMA honored 30 music teachers from around the country by bringing them to Nashville for a celebratory dinner hosted by Dierks Bentley, honoring these teachers for work the do in supporting their students’ passion for music. The goal of the event is to change the conversation around teacher investment, with the CMA estimating that teachers pay $500 – $2,500 out of pocket for classroom resources. To help alleviate these expenses, CMA awards $5,000 to each teacher, half of which goes toward classroom expenses while the other $2,500 is put toward personal use.
The impact of music and the people who teach it was prevalent throughout the event. After Bentley’s uplifting performance of his new single “Living” with students from Granbery Elementary School, attendees were taken inside these schools through an inspiring video chronicling the stories of Bella Selley, whose teacher Franklin Willis helped the shy student who was subjected to bullying foster her gift for singing by giving her a solo during the Eagle Honor Choir at Andrew Jackson Elementary performance at Nissan Stadium during 2018 CMA Fest; and that of Zion Brown, who learned through the guidance of music teacher Alice Asako Walle how to use songwriting as a way to express his emotions.
For the many country artists in attendance including Kelsea Ballerini, Lindsay Ell, Mickey Guyton and Chase Bryant, the meaning of the event caused them to reflect on the music teachers who inspired them and the defining role music has played in their lives. Ell has personally experienced the impact of music education, citing her music teachers as an influential part of her decision to pursue a career as an artist, sharing how the art form was an outlet from bullying and the stressors of school. “Music education was huge to my childhood,” she says. “They were just so influential to me falling in love with music and me wanting to learn everything I can and really push those boundaries.”
For Stephanie Quayle, the event brought to mind her choir teacher who she now refers to as a “dear friend.” “The power to have those in our lives that can say ‘you can do this,’ it’s important regardless of if you go into music or not,” she says. “Music is such a beautiful expression, it ties into everything; the math and sciences, it’s not just a separate thing. I can’t imagine my life without it, and so I have to make sure that no person has to ever imagine that as well.”
The event served as a way for Bryant to honor the many people in his family who have been educators, particularly his mother who has been a teacher for 30 years. He can still recall the name of his three music teachers, citing them as “very inspiring to my musical career.” “They furthered me in the sense of what I listen to and how I thought about music and music theory,” he says, adding that music is an important part of life. “I think having them help further that is a really amazing thing. I think they deserve more credit.”
Like Bryant, Sarah Darling also found immeasurable value in the lessons she learned from her junior high music teacher Mrs. Rumple, the singer noting show she inspired her and many other students. And every time she’s on stage, Mrs. Rumple crosses her mind. “They’re the kind of relationships that last a lifetime and for these kids that grow older, they can actually help some future generations along the way,” she shares. “Country music is a community, and I look at the CMA as the community helping others. It’s the next generation we have to encourage to keep believing in their dreams and pursing music because we never want music to go away.”
Up-and-coming country star Rachel Wammack has also known the influence of music education, attributing her career to the music teachers that inspired her during formative years in school. “Teachers in general, but music teachers particularly, they pour their heart and souls into the kids and teach them that you can dream, and that work ethic is super important and that creativity has no limits,” she says. “I wouldn’t be here as an artist, I wouldn’t be signed if it wouldn’t have been for my band director in high school, who taught me that the more you give, the more you get, and the more you get, the more you have to give. That’s one of the best things I’ve ever learned.”
Since its inception in 2011, the CMA Foundation has raised a total of $25 million for music education in public schools across the U.S. Proceeds from ticket sales during the annual CMA Music Festival in downtown Nashville benefit the foundation. 2019 CMA Fest runs from June 6-10 and features the likes of Carrie Underwood, Bentley, Keith Urban, Maren Morris and more.