WESTMINSTER -- When asked how many children she has, Lisa Bianconi often replies, "One hundred and ten --105 at school and five at home." And all her kids -- biological and otherwise -- were on hand Thursday afternoon for the culmination of a year-long journey that has garnered her national attention and validation for 29 years of a job well done.
The music director at Kurn Hattin Homes for Children, Bianconi was named one of the 10 finalists for the first-ever Grammy Music Educator Award last year, out of 32,000 nominees. 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.
Kent Knappenberger, the music teacher at Westfield Academy and Central School in New York, was in January named the award's recipient, but Grammy Foundation Senior Vice President Kristen Madsen visited Kurn Hattin on Thursday to celebrate Bianconi and her accomplishments. The special day included a luncheon, comments from Kurn Hattin Co-Executive Director Tom Fahner, Director of Admissions Sue Kessler, Board Chairman Ronald Williams and a governor's proclamation from Gov. Peter Shumlin. Bianconi also led her young musicians in song to entertain the auditorium full of people and to round out the event.
"Today is a very special and proud day for Kurn Hattin. It is my pleasure to welcome each of you here and I also welcome Lisa's family and friends," Fahner said in the Higbie Auditorium.
Kessler took the podium to speak on behalf of Co-Executive Director Connie Sanderson, who was unable to attend the event due to illness. Kessler said Sanderson sent her love to Bianconi and was thrilled there was a day set aside to recognize her talent and her contributions to the Kurn Hattin community.
"As one of the many people who has watched in awe as Lisa has worked her magic with our students through the power of music, it is an honor to be speaking on behalf of Connie Sanderson," Kessler said. "The journey to the Grammy finals was filled with excitement, fun and, yes, some anxiety, but, most of all, it was a year of watching the passion of nurturing children."
Bianconi's children and husband were in attendance, as were her parents, Lee and Judy Patno, her brother, Christian, her five aunts and uncles and scores of friends and colleagues.
Madsen, with The Grammy Foundation, said Bianconi got this award for two reasons.
"The first reason is she's figured out how to look into your brains and find a little bit of open space and fill it up with some knowledge about music," she told the students. "Another way is, she looks into your hearts and into that she pours caring and love and respect and confidence into all of you. And she does this by first opening up her own heart, where you can also find caring and love and respect and confidence."
Madsen told the crowd she felt blessed to be at such an "unbelievably beautiful place" with some talented faculty and sharply-dressed students. She also played a little game by asking the students to raise their hands if music classes were their favorite -- and numerous hands shot up.
"Music was my favorite class, too. And I wonder if it was for the same reason," she said. "I liked music because it was the class I went to that didn't make my brain hurt. Right? I liked that class because no matter how many notes I was getting wrong ... I still had a good time. I liked that class because whenever I left that class, I always had a smile on my face because it made me feel good."
Madsen presented Bianconi with two oversized checks in honor of being named a finalist. Each check, from The Grammy Foundation, was for $1,000 -- one goes directly to Kurn Hattin and the other went to Bianconi, who donated to the school she loves.
The guest of honor often had to wipe tears of joy from her face when she addressed the crowd, but she said she would not be where she is today without each one of them.
"Everyone in this room is very special to me. ...
The adventure of the past year came to be after Sanderson began chatting with one of the women that help with Kurn Hattin's public relations and casually mentioned she would love to nominate Bianconi for a national award for music educators if one existed. One of the public relations workers called her the next day to tell her about the first-ever Grammy Music Educator Award and that started it all.
Bianconi was one of 32,000 initial nominees and survived the first cut when that number was whittled to 217. She was selected to the top 25 and was floored in December to learn she was named a finalist. She was one of three music teachers in Vermont chosen as quarterfinalists and was the only New Englander in the top 10.
Her parents said the whole Grammy journey was a lot of fun to follow from their home in Rutland.
"It's been exciting, very exciting. I'm just so proud of her," Judy Patno told the Reformer. "It's a wonderful school, a wonderful institution."
The crowd was treated to musical arrangements from the school's choirs and jazz ensemble to cap off the event.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.