WESTMINSTER -- Lisa Bianconi already felt like a winner in May.
That's when she was named one of the 217 quarterfinalists for the first-ever Music Educator Award presented by The Grammy Foundation and the Recording Academy. Now, after finding out she's made it into the top 25, the music director at Kurn Hattin Homes for Children said the feeling is almost indescribable.
"I can't believe this. I was just in complete shock (when I got the call)," she said. "I'm extremely overwhelmed."
Whittled down from more than 30,000 candidates earlier this year, Bianconi was one of three Vermont music teachers chosen as quarterfinalists out of all the submissions from across the country. Ten finalists will be named in December and the winner will be flown to the Grammy Awards ceremony, where the award will be presented, in Los Angeles in February 2014. Bianconi said The Grammy Foundation will send someone out to Kurn Hattin to interview her, but had no idea when that might happen.
The Grammy Music Educator Award, according to grammy.com, 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 music education and who demonstrate a commitment to maintaining music education in schools.
"I think for someone in music education, it validates what I love to do every single day. It validates the importance of music education in schools and how important it is to the Kurn Hattin community," Bianconi said, adding that music education is an invaluable part of school programming because it teaches patience, diligence and persistence, and drives out profound courage and resilience in students, particularly in children at risk.
"As music educators we must advocate for our programs and strive for greater public awareness of the vast rewards of music education," she said
She is the only music director from New England in the top 25.
Bianconi, who just started her 29th year as Kurn Hattin's music director, told the Reformer she got a phone call on Tuesday from a woman with The Grammy Foundation, who left a message asking Bianconi to call her back. Bianconi did so and, in a game of phone tag, left a voicemail. The woman called back and informed her she was a semifinalist.
Bianconi said she was shocked by the news and cried tears of joy after hanging up.
"The experience so far has been surreal and to make it to the quarterfinals is more than I ever expected," she said. The musical veteran is also thrilled for the sort of national attention this can bring to Kurn Hattin.
Bianconi -- who teaches all general music, including select choir and instrumental programs -- was part of the less than 1 percent of nominees selected for the quarterfinals. She said she wrote 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 previously told the Reformer 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 roughly 25 years.
"When you see Lisa's passion for teaching children and using music as a tool to make a difference in their lives, it seems natural that she would be chosen as a semifinalist," Sanderson said. "She creates an educational environment that is infused with excitement and she brings out the best in every child."
Sanderson had been chatting with one of the women that help with Kurn Hattin's public relations and casually mentioned she would definitely nominate Bianconi 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.
But it is not Bianconi's family taking to social media to support her. Eugene Uman, artistic director of Vermont Jazz Center, updated his Facebook status to say he has known and worked with the music director for many years.
"She deserves this honor and more -- she has my support to win the Grammy as top music educator in the United States. I have seen the transformation of children under her gentle yet energetic and persistent care," he wrote. "She and the Kurn Hattin program she developed have positively affected the lives of literally hundreds of kids from broken homes, often scared and self-doubting, into self-confident youth. These young people now and forever will have music in their lives as a symbol to demonstrate that anything is possible through discipline, community participation and love."
Bianconi said several Kurn Hattin students wrote full-page explanations as to why they feel she would win the award and stuck them on the bulletin board of an English teacher. This gesture, she said, truly expressed how the students think of her.
She said her Kurn Hattin Homes Marching Band is set to perform at the Big E state fair in West Springfield, Mass., on Friday, Sept. 27, and the school's select choir performed at the Wings of Hope Butterfly Release events in Lebanon, NH. on Saturday, Sept. 7 and at Landmark College in Putney on Monday, Sept 9.
"Every one of these kids are stars," she said.
Domenic Poli can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.