Triad Music Teacher To Take Home Grammy

Triad Music Teacher To Take Home Grammy

2:44pm Feb 15, 2016
2016 Grammy Music Educator Award winner Phillip Riggs has taught music education in North Carolina for 28 years. Credit: North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics

The 58th Annual Grammy awards will be held Monday night in Los Angeles, and their Nielsen ratings may receive a boost from Triad audiences. Mount Airy native Phillip Riggs beat out more than 4,000 nominees to win the 2016 Grammy Music Educator Award. The prize recognizes teachers who have made a significant contribution to the field of music education.

Riggs has taught band and choir throughout North Carolina for nearly 30 years, 20 of which were spent in Davidson and Forsyth counties.  In fall 2015, he was the first teacher inducted into Reagan High School's Hall of Fame in Winston-Salem. He’s currently an instructor of music at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham.

As part of the prize, Riggs will also receive a $10,000 honorarium. He and his wife Carol will be in attendance at the Grammy Awards ceremony, which begins tonight at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

Phillip Riggs spoke with WFDD’s David Ford from Los Angeles. He says the win presents an opportunity to represent his fellow music teachers, and foster music education's continued growth in schools across the country. 

Why you? Why Phillip Riggs?

"I really think it’s sort of beyond my classroom. I’ve been very active most of my career with the North Carolina Music Educator’s Association. But really the thing that’s most important to me right now [is that] four years ago, I was the first chairman in that organization to create a program for new teachers. New music teachers leave the profession pretty quickly. A lot of them stay approximately three years. They’re isolated—often times there’s only one music teacher in a school. Like the English department often has several teachers that they can all collaborate together, so we’ve created a music mentor program for new music teachers. It’s gone incredibly well in North Carolina, and actually I’m now getting the opportunity to share what we’ve done with some other states and helping them to institute similar programs to help young music teachers get through those first few years and make a career of being music teachers."

Tell me more about the mentorship program, and the sorts of advice might you offer new teachers in an effort to keep them from burning out.

"Based on some research, we actually try to create a three-person team, so there’s a new teacher, a three or five-year teacher, and then the veteran teacher that’s ten-plus years, because that teacher that’s taught three to five years can still really closely identify with what that new teacher is going through, and sort of speaks their lingo and is more on their technical level than the veteran teacher might be. We really encourage the new teachers to not try to do it on their own. They’ve got to reach out, they’ve got to talk to their mentors, creating that network of directors around them in their local area. Now with social media it’s so easy to connect with folks that they may know in different places. We tell them to try to work together so they’re not shouldering all that responsibility on themselves all the time."

Why do you think music education is important?

"I guess the non-musical reason is building character and integrity and that sort of thing through the process of being in a music program. And, also, one thing that’s really unique to a music ensemble compared to other classes is for the whole group to be successful; every individual has to be successful. Unlike in a math class where I cannot understand any of it and you’re sitting beside me and you get it all and you make your 'A', it really doesn’t affect you how well I do, and that’s not the case in a music ensemble. Everybody has to step up and everybody has to be successful in order for the ensemble to be successful. You can get that from being on an athletic team to some extent, but I think the difference in being in a music ensemble is that everybody’s a starter. You know you don’t play from rehearsal A to B and then call a timeout and put a different group in and pull a group out. Everybody’s in. They’re starters from beginning to end. I think there’s a great community lesson that students can learn in that as well."

During your CBS This Morning feature earlier this week, three of your past students—now young adults—were interviewed about their experiences rehearsing and performing under you at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. Graham Mulvaney, now 25 years old and finishing his medical school training, was quoted as saying “It was much more than just playing notes on the page. It can be an entire experience of shaping someone’s life, of really bringing joy to people.” What’s your reaction when you hear things like that from former students?

"One of the neatest things for me in this whole [Grammy Awards nominating] process was hearing from so many former students about things that had happened when they were in 6th grade band or 7th grade band. Something that seemed routine to me because that’s what I did every day and year after year. But one little thing, or one little statement, or comment of encouragement... that made a difference in them and they still remember it to this day. I’ve been teaching—this is my 28th year—so some of them are well into their thirties now and have families, but they still remember those moments. So, for them to share those is truly incredible, and I really think it’s something we have to stop and think about—really teachers in every subject—we have to choose our words carefully and think about not just the immediate 'did they get this content?', but 'am I getting them excited about learning, or is it just about learning notes and rhythm just to play a piece of music?'

It really boils down to relationships. Even in a marching band of 100-plus students, I’ve always tried to know who each student is, what their life is like, what are their highs, what are their lows that they’re dealing with on a daily basis. The more you can cultivate those individual relationships, the greater the whole is going to be."

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