WESTMINSTER -- To be selected a winner out of 217 people is, by all accounts, a longshot. But if you were one those 217 that had been whittled down from an initial 30,000, it might seem like child's play by comparison.
And that's exactly where Lisa Bianconi, the music director at Kurn Hattin Homes for Children, sits as a quarterfinalist for the first-ever Music Educator Award presented by the Grammy Foundation and the Recording Academy. She was one of three Vermont music teachers chosen to move on to the next round out of all the submissions from across the country.
A list of semi-finalists, Bianconi told the Reformer, will be announced in August and the finalists will be named in December. The winner will be flown to the Grammy Awards ceremony, where the award will be presented, in Los Angeles in February 2014.
The Grammy Music Educator Award was established to recognize current music educators from kindergarten through college, in both public and private schools, who have made a significant and lasting contribution to the field of music education and who demonstrate a commitment to maintaining music education in schools.
Bianconi, who has been the music director for 28 years, said the experience so far has been surreal and to make it to the quarterfinals is more than she ever expected.
"It's pure excitement and joy, but also it's just very humbling," she said. "I can't even describe this.
Bianconi was part of the less than 1 percent of nominees selected for the quarterfinals.
She told the Reformer the semi-finalists will be decided based on a new list of criteria that had to be submitted by June 11. Bianconi said she drafted a 500-word essay on her philosophy of education and a videography company recorded her required videos of her "showing contribution to music education at the school" and of her teaching her students. She said the four key points in her essay were: Every child should feel like they're special and important, every child is good enough to perform, music is a unifying source with a power to transfer lives and all children should have the opportunity to express themselves through it.
Bianconi was nominated for the award by Kurn Hattin Homes' Co-Executive Director Connie Sanderson, who has known Bianconi for 25 years.
"This year has been an amazing year for her in the music department and she's been an amazing teacher here for the past 28 years," Sanderson told the Reformer. "We know she's going to the semi-finals. She's got such an amazing story to tell."
Sanderson said she was chatting with one of the women that help with Kurn Hattin's public relations and jokingly said she would definitely nominate Bianconi -- who teaches all general music, including select choir and instrumental programs -- if there was a national award for music educators. She said one of them called the next day to tell her about the first-ever Music Educator Award and "that got the ball rolling."
Sanderson said a lot of people have been following Bianconi's nomination on Kurn Hattin's Facebook page and it is great to get the school's name out there more.
"We're very proud," she said. "We're lucky to have Lisa."
This year marked several landmark performances for the Kurn Hattin Select Choir under Bianconi's direction, including appearing on stage with Grammy-winning fiddler Natalie MacMaster and winning top children's gospel performer in Western New England public television member station WGBY's "Together in Song" choral competition.
Bianconi told the Reformer she hopes her nomination puts "Kurn Hattin on the map nationally," saying its community promotes music education, as she has one full-time assistant and five volunteers.
"That's why I believe I am where I am -- because I've had so much support throughout the years." she said. "(Sanderson) knows I have a true passion for teaching music and I love my students. We do more than 30 concerts a year."
All 105 Kurn Hatting students participate in one or more aspects of the music program, and all students in grades 4 through 8 learn and perform on band instruments.
"I have some amazingly talented children," she said. "I still feel like its the first day of school, even after coming in here for 28 years. It's the same joy."
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.