Music Education Innovator Award

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Read about past recipient programs below!

Give A Note Foundation’s Music Education Innovator Award is granted to school music programs led by creative music educators utilizing innovative and sustainable strategies in non-traditional or traditional K-12 music classes in America’s public schools that attract students not typically enrolled in music education courses, in efforts to increase access to music education through diversity in curriculum and approach.

With thanks to our founding sponsor, the CMA Foundation, awards are granted to schools with programs that have significant potential for utilizing $4,000 grants to build upon programmatic successes to date, in efforts to create lasting change in a school or district. Minimally intrusive reporting requirements are developed to allow for other schools and districts to learn from the resulting models, with associated music educators serving as Innovative Ambassadors to the field.

Our review criteria

Give A Note (GAN) is committed to supporting creative, impactful, and sustainable programs in public school music classrooms. We do that, in part, by grounding all our grant programs in community benefit. What matters most to GAN is that the classrooms we support are connected to and serving their community. We call this Community Benefit, and it is the area in our review that is most heavily weighted.
During this particular award, we have an added focus on Innovation. See below for our definitions of both in addition to our third review category: Program Capacity.

Community Benefit

GAN defines “Community Benefit” as a teacher’s ability to meaningfully engage their students, parents, the school, and members of the geographic area in which it’s located.
Exceptional applicants will:

  • Demonstrate an understanding, respect, and ongoing response to student needs and interests.
  • Use knowledge of their students culture and interests to drive their program.
  • Build meaningful relationships with parents, administration, community partners, and peers.
  • Create an accessible and inviting environment for their students.


GAN defines “Innovation” as a quality music program that inspires and challenges students outside traditional music curriculum.
Exceptional applicants will:

  • Inspire their students, parents, and neighbors to creatively define music education.
  • Incorporate a process of reflection to ensure fresh programming.
  • Involve students in activities that go far beyond simply preparing them for concerts/festivals or listening to recorded music.
  • Make lessons learned in the music classroom more applicable to real world settings.
  • Show evidence of or potential to attract, enroll, and include students that have not previously been involved in school music programs.
  • Help students grow in their ability to perform, create (improvise or compose), and/or respond to music in inventive and exciting new ways.
  • Use approaches/materials/media that are markedly different from those typically found in band, choir, orchestra, or general music settings.

Program Capacity

GAN defines Program Capacity as a teacher’s ability to successfully plan for, manage, and inspire other teachers around the country through its program.
Exceptional applicants will:

  • Demonstrate potential for the program to be transferred to and implemented in other school settings.
  • Use the support offered by GAN to put in place an innovative program that survives the grant period, thus bringing lasting change to the school and to the student population served.
  • Show evidence of or potential to attract students ongoing.
  • Set project goals to measure progress and evolve.
  • Demonstrate potential to garner additional support for this music program from outside sources with the infusion of this grant money.

2020 Music Education Innovator Award Winners

Read about them and their programs HERE!

2019 Music Education Innovator Award Winners

Dr. Andrew Edwards of Peachtree Ridge High School in Suwanee, GA

Grant funds support Roaring Records, a program that teaches students to record, edit, and produce their own audio productions using Logic Pro X, as well as build electric guitars and amplifiers.

Markita Moore of Mary McLeod Bethune EMS in Detroit, MI

Grant funds support Detroit to Brazil and Back, a program that allows students to experience Afro-Brazilian rhythms, songs, and cultural traditions.

Eric Songer of Chaska Middle School West in Chaska, MN

Grant funds support The Next Generation of Music Education, a public school band program that opens up the world of chamber ensembles, pop, hip hop, improv and songwriting.

Benjamin Thompson of High Tech Early College in Denver, CO

Grant funds support the Audio Production Pathway program, which combines audio engineering with music composition, supports students learning to use a traditional keyboard, and actively encourages women to enter the audio production field.

Fall 2018 Music Education Innovator Award Recipients Announced

Winner Vivian Gonzalez and her Miami Arts School Orchestra with Principal Dr. Balsera and Give A Note Board Chair, Sean Smith.

Winner Vivian Gonzalez and her Miami Arts School Orchestra with Principal Dr. Miguel Balsera and Give A Note Board Chair, Sean Smith.

Give A Note Foundation is proud to announce the recipients of the Fall 2018 Music Education Innovator AwardThese educators presented programs that use innovative and sustainable strategies in non-traditional or traditional primary and secondary music courses to attract students not typically enrolled in music education programs, in efforts to increase access to music education through diversity in curriculum and approach. Thank you to founding sponsor, the CMA (Country Music Association) Foundation.

The Fall 2018 Music Education Innovator Award recipients are:

  • Anna Harris, Oakland Terrace Elementary School, Silver Spring MD: “Ethiopian Song Project” – There are currently no Ethiopian music resources available to music teachers, and I teach in a county that has the largest Ethiopian-American population in the United States. My Ethiopian students are excited to share what they know about their own culture and to be making music that is familiar to them. In addition, my students who are not Ethiopian are excited to do these songs because they represent their classmates and friends.”
  • Bradley Collins, Enrique S. Camarena Elementary School, Chula Vista CA: “The Music Technology Program” – “Learning the basic music theory skills required to understand musical patterns, melodies, chords, and digital arrangements of audio tracks can help students stay interested in music as a lifelong learner. This type of music class promotes music to several different learning modalities, not just the eager performers…The LARGE majority of job opportunities in the music field available to these students someday are NOT professional music performance positions. They are in areas like recording, sound system design, producing, stage management, DJ’ing, advertising, teaching, composing [and]acoustical technicians.”
  • K. Michelle Lewis, Bloom Elementary School, Louisville, KY: “Project Based Learning in Music” – “Students learn about real world problems and use music as the avenue to advocate for those in need. For example, [my] 2nd graders made a music video public service announcement for clean water, 5th graders developed a podcast where they teach mini music lessons to those around the world who don’t have a music teacher [and] 1st graders create music that advocates for animals…trying to escape forest fires.”
  • Sarah Minette, Minneapolis South High School, Minneapolis MN: “Empowering Student Creativity through Piano, Guitar and Sound Production” – “The majority of the students with whom I work are immigrants and refugees who are not native-English speakers. Many of them have not played instruments before or have had the opportunity to experience music making in school. [As] newcomers in our country, they attempt to navigate the complexities of a new language, being a teenager, [all while] maintaining a sense of their culture. Through music, we are able to bridge these many gaps. By experimenting with different styles of music, through collaborative and individual opportunities, students begin to see themselves as not only musical, but creative beings.”
  • Vivian Gonzalez, Miami Arts Studio 6-12 at Zelda Glazer, Miami FL: “MAS Orchestra Outreach” – “MAS Orchestra was created to give string instrument education access to an entire segment of the Miami-Dade County Community that had no access to string instrument education…nearly 97% of our students coming from Latino homes. I strategically use music of [my students’] cultures to strengthen their interest in participation in orchestra. My students want to make sure that they give back to their communities and that they are part of providing access to string instrument education…[so we are] starting MAS Orchestra Mentors, where our school will be open on Saturdays to have my students, with my guidance and supervision, teach elementary school students in our feeder pattern.”

One music educator from each grant recipient school will be honored at the 2019 CMA Music Teachers of Excellence Dinner in Nashville, TN, on April 30, 2019, and will present on their school’s program to attendees at the 2019 NAfME National Conference in Florida on November 7-10, 2019 (all-expense paid).

Read the press release here.

The Spring 2018 Music Education Innovator Award recipients are:

  • Ethan Chessin, Camas High School, Camas, Washington: “The Business of Music.”
  • Ginny Coleman, Tuscaloosa County High School, Northport, Alabama: “All Together Now: Including Children with Severe Disabilities in Choir.”
  • Brian Gallagher, Ramona High School, Riverside, California: “Mariachi dinastía de Ramona.”
  • Chris Gemkow, York Community High School, Elmhurst, Illinois: “Music Production Program and the York Album Project.”
  • Warren Mize, East Central High School, San Antonio, Texas: “Music Business and Industries Two-Year Course.”

Read more about each of these music programs here.