Changing Lives: Music Educator Award™ Finalist Nicole Thompson

Changing Lives

Music Educator Award™ Finalist Nicole Thompson

Nominate a teacher by March 15.
Applications due by March 31.


The GRAMMY Foundation® and The Recording Academy® have just chosen 10 finalists for the 2017 Music Educator Award™. The award was established to recognize current educators (kindergarten through college, public and private schools) 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 schools. Nine out of the 10 finalists are NAfME members, as was last year’s ultimate winner, Phillip Riggs of North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham, NC. Teachers are encouraged to apply by visiting Teachers participating in the Music Educator Award process by applying makes them part of our overall music education advocacy movement.


Nicole Thompson, another NAfME member, presently serves as Director of Orchestras at Taylor Road Middle School in Johns Creek, Georgia. She has been named as one of the 10 finalists for the 2017 award. Nicole answered some questions from NAfME:

Q: What role do you believe music education plays in the overall learning experience of students?

Music brings people together in a way nothing else can. I have seen music education save and change lives. Learning and making music is one of the most valuable experiences we can give kids today because it inspires and teaches so much. Music teaches discipline through trial and error as students learn to practice with diligence to achieve success and attain goals. Music teaches teamwork because every child depends on the others to succeed. Performing music groups are like family. People mentor and encourage each other – they help each other and they learn to ask for help. Music gives self-confidence and teaches performance in front of others, which, in turn prepares children for success in life. The confidence gained through performance can be transferred to other classes – speaking in front of groups, whether it be their peers or adults. Music relaxes and gives kids a place to go and forget all about the stress of life. Children can get in touch with their emotions, express themselves, and enjoy life through music.

music educator

Q: Why did you decide to become a music teacher?

Music played a positive role in my life growing up, as there were several people who influenced me through music. I was first drawn to music by my mother. She loved music and sang all the time when I was young. Joe Tarentino, my first orchestra teacher, was a real inspiration to me. Mr. Tarentino was patient, kind, intelligent, and funny. He caused me to fall in love with playing the violin. Teaching music is a great way to pass the experience on to other generations. I am passionate about music and I enjoy working with young people. I love the feeling of performing music well. My performance experiences growing up were very positive and orchestra gave me a group of people I knew I could depend on. The orchestra became my family and now I have the opportunity to create that atmosphere for my students. In middle and high school, the highlight of my life was making music and interacting with my orchestra family on a daily basis. Now, I can provide and facilitate that experience for others.

Q: Please describe your music program and what role you believe it plays in the overall fabric of the school. 

Our music program at Taylor Road Middle School is such a great place to be. Our music department, which includes Band, Chorus, and Orchestra, supports and encourages one another and I have the privilege of serving as department chair.

I teach 6 classes of orchestra each day and the program functions like a family with the children supporting and mentoring each other. The orchestra program includes 6th, 7th and 8th grade students. There are four orchestras – beginning, intermediate, advanced, and fiddle. Students meet 50 minutes daily with their respective grade level and rehearse one day per week outside of the school day.

Sixth grade is the first opportunity in Fulton County for children to learn an instrument. I teach 2 classes of beginning students in sixth grade. I have other opportunities available to challenge them, such as intermediate or advanced orchestra.

Another group I developed to challenge students is the fiddle group. Any student with any level of ability can be a member of the fiddle group as long as they commit to attend weekly rehearsals. This year, we have over 75 students in fiddle group and really enjoy making music together.

Everyone in the orchestra works together as a team. With over 200 students, I am thankful to have many students volunteer for various jobs such as concert and daily classroom set-up/tear down, paperwork, tuning, mentoring, minor instrument repair, etc. The Taylor Road Orchestra program receives tremendous support from the staff of Taylor Road Middle School, as well as parent volunteers, and the Johns Creek community.

Nicole Thompson

Q: Any thoughts on the GRAMMY Educator process? 

I like that anyone can nominate a music educator, and I think the videos the nominees are asked to make provide a valuable look at their classroom and teaching style. The fact that the process has been developed by experienced educators, as well as other professionals in the GRAMMY foundation, is great, as are the questions we are asked. Overall, I believe the process for the GRAMMY Music Educator is excellent. By recognizing teachers this way, the GRAMMY foundation is giving back and encouraging music education.

Q: What role do you believe your NAfME membership has in the professional development aspects of your career?

I think membership in the National Association for Music Education has tremendous benefits in professional development because of the wealth of information that is shared through this organization. The professionals who plan the conferences and share information for the latest teaching practices are to be commended. NAfME brings music educators together to share and grow in their profession, thus benefiting the children.

For more information on the GRAMMY Music Educator Award™ process please visit
Nominate a teacher by March 15.
Applications due by March 31.

Brendan McAloon, Marketing and Events Coordinator, February 13, 2017. © National Association for Music Education (