OLIVESBURG – For Crestview High School music teacher Chris Thompson, it’s a love of music and a desire to instill that love in his students that drives him every day. That drive has earned him a spot as a quarterfinalist for the Grammy Foundation’s Music Educator Award.
“I want them to love music. They’re not all going to be great at it, and that’s okay, as long as they love it and they respect it and they’re putting in the effort. Any kid that’s going to give you 110 percent, that’s all we can ask for. I’m fortunate to have a lot of those kids,” Thompson said.
A native of Groveport, Thompson is one of 290 music educators from 264 cities from 41 states who are quarterfinalists for the 4th Annual Music Educator Award presented by The Recording Academy and the Grammy Foundation.
“Mr. Thompson has the unique ability to bring out the best in students and help them reach their full potential,” said Crestview High School Principal Shannon Sprang. “He teaches them that once you become satisfied you fail to grow and become a better musician. Students know he truly cares about them not just as musicians but as people.”
More than 3,300 nominations were submitted this year for the award, which was established to recognize current teachers who “have made a significant and lasting contribution to the field of music education and who demonstrate a commitment to the broader cause of maintaining music education in the schools,” according to a press release. The award is open to all current music educators, kindergarten through college.
One winner is chosen each year and honored during Grammy Week. Nine other finalists will receive a $1,000 honorarium and the schools of all 10 finalists will be given matching grants. Fifteen semifinalists will receive a $500 honorarium with matching school grants. Semifinalists will be announced in September.
The seed for Thompson’s love of music was planted when he started in the fifth-grade band playing percussion. “I had some awesome teachers and just fell in love with what we were doing,” Thompson said.
His grandparents, who also loved music, started paying for private music lessons to foster his burgeoning passion.
“By eighth grade I kind of knew that I was going to teach music. Luckily I had teachers who were supportive and pointed me in the right direction,” Thompson said.
“A lot of (his love for music) did come from my family,” Thompson said. “I marched in the same band as my dad, my older brother and my grandpa. Everyone was in the same place. So that’s a powerful thing. Grandma’s house always had the piano, and that piano is now my piano.”
Following high school, Thompson studied music at Capital University in Columbus, where he had the opportunity to work as a student teacher at some large schools with some teachers who really inspired him. While teaching at Grove City, he would often teach music lessons until 9:30 p.m. and saw the school’s music teacher in his office listening to recordings of every student play.
“So often as teachers, we’re stressed about the amount of work. But I took that to heart, and I thought, ‘If he’s taking the time to listen to 200 kids’ recordings, there’s a reason his program is thought of as one of the best in the state” Thompson said. “It’s something I do now. The high school kids hate it, but they know every song in marching band, they’re going to record it and I’m going to sit and listen to every single second of it and I’m going to tell them, ‘This is great’ or ‘We’ve got to fix this.'”
His then-girlfriend (now wife) Chelsie is from this area originally, so after graduation from Capital, her family told him about a job opening at Crestview. His father-in-law Steve Taylor is a retired band director from Hillsdale and now the Mansfield Symphony Operations Manager.
Thompson, who just finished his seventh year at Crestview, was excited for the opportunity to come to Crestview and be a part of the community. “I’ve never looked back. It’s been wonderful.”
Sophomore Erin Bernhard was the student who nominated Thompson for the award. After making it to the quarterfinals, Thompson had to make two four-minute videos of community members and students and graduates answering questions the Grammy Foundation set up, and also an 8-minute rehearsal video.
“My hope is they look at schools in an area like Crestview and say they’re doing some incredible stuff in a small area and that doesn’t always make sense and so hopefully they’ll support those things, as opposed to big schools in big cities that are already doing a lot of stuff,” Thompson said.
Crestview offers music technology, music theory and music history – classes most schools of Crestview’s size do not offer.
“We’ve expanded what we offer the kids in such a way that a small school really shouldn’t be able to do that but we’re in an environment and we have administrators who look at it and say ‘This is valuable to the kids. It’s benefiting them. Let’s find a way to make it happen,’” Thompson said. “I graduated 10 kids, and of the 10, more than half of them were in the Top 20 in their class. So there’s an impact. There’s something going on in music that is clearly doing something. And research proves it, but now we’re seeing it in our school first-hand. These kids are doing something. “
Thompson said he’s had several football players in band who march at halftime of the football games.
“This year it was our starting center. He was starting, marching at halftime, then going back and playing. And he does it because he loves it. Not because we beg him to. He knows it’s up to him. But he loves it and he’s doing the things he cares about. The kids love it and they’ve really bought into it,” Thompson said. “Hopefully the Grammy Foundation acknowledges that these kids are incredible. To me, that’s more what it’s about. It’s great to be honored but these kids are incredible, so let’s give more to them.”
If he’s were lucky enough to win, Thompson said he’d like to spend the money on steel drums for the school.
“It’s such a culturally different thing and it’s not something that just has to be a percussionist. Any kid can hold these little mallets with rubber bands on the end, and the notes are written in so they can find the notes on the steel pan, but I don’t think anyone can hear a steel pan and not smile, because it’s such a unique sound and such an exciting sound,” Thompson said.
Coming from a competitive marching band background, Thompson wants his students to understand that music should be fun.
“It was fun to win, but it didn’t have as much meaning,” Thompson said of his time in competitive marching band. “Here at Crestview I’ve had that experience where the kids will play a piece of music and it hits them, and they get emotional about what they’re playing, while they’re performing.”
Thompson said that’s part of what makes music mean so much to him personally — the emotions.
“I remember an experience in college. We were playing a beautiful piece and I looked up and this guest conductor was crying, just sobbing. Because the music was beautiful. I started looking around and everyone is doing it. And I’m overwhelmed by these emotions. It probably wasn’t the best performance, but it was emotional and that’s what I’ve tried to teach these kids,” Thompson said. “The music, it’s an art. It takes so much more of us and it’s what makes us human. That’s what I focus on. I’d love to take them to competitions and have a huge trophy case but that’s not what it’s really about. Because they’re getting what it’s about inside more than the external stuff.”
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