GRAMMY Finalist Richard Maxwell: A Musical Mind Is So Much More Capable in Any Field


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Richard Maxwell created the Contemporary Music and Sound program at Arcadia High School in Scottsdale, Arizona.


In February 2015, the GRAMMY Foundation named Jared Cassedy of Windham, New Hampshire, the 2015 GRAMMY Music Educator. Cassedy was one of 10 finalists chosen from a pool of 7,000 nominations nationwide. Of the ten music educators, eight are NAfME members. Each finalist received a $1,000 honorarium, and their schools each received a $1,000 grant from the GRAMMY Foundation.

Glenn Nierman, president of the National Association for Music Education (NAfME), says the honored teachers represent high-quality music educators everywhere. Glenn E. Nierman, president of the National Association for Music Education (NAfME), says the honored teachers represent high-quality music educators everywhere. Read Nierman’s full remarks.

Richard Mawxell of Scottsdale, Arizona, is one of the finalists. He answered some questions about his career from NAfME. 

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

I could certainly talk, as so many correctly do, about the benefits to test scores, academic pursuits, collaborative skills, and so on — and I truly think those are important and significant; but I also think it’s always circumstantial — it’s going to be different for every student. I don’t believe in absolutes. Particularly with regard to Music and The Creative Process. That said, I think Music Education allows students to explore so many of the intangibles of life. I feel it’s like a doorway to all that is truly important yet lies beneath the surface.  

It’s as though it has the potential to unlock who a person really is. From there it can allow for greater connections to pretty much everything else they do. Perhaps cliché, and I am sure I am not the first to say so, but I simply believe a “Musical Mind” is capable of so much more in any field. I believe it allows us to be far more than we might be otherwise. Sometime I wonder, for example, why is “Music improves test scores” so often the defacto reasoning for keeping Music in Schools? Because, while that is true, it does not come close to telling the whole story.  

Why don’t Math teachers have to justify how their classes directly make students better people? Not better prepared for life, I mean, literally, better people. Within themselves. As Music does. And if that is true, and I certainly believe it is, why is THAT not the defacto reasoning for keeping Music in schools? Frankly, I don’t mean to be picking on Math, but, for example, I am fairly certain that the financial crises from recent years was not brought about by Musicians or other Artists. Again, I am not trying to pick on Math or Math teachers, so don’t let that distract you. 

But the fact remains that Music Educators will forever be forced to justify what they do, until they are no longer forced to justify what they do. That’s not circular logic, it’s my sense of the real problem. Improving test scores is not insignificant, but it’s not enough. Yes, the Arts also keep them in school; but, again, not enough. How about an approach to the Arts that teaches them how to go from a totally blank page, as it were, navigating a potentially infinite number of complex steps and variables, collaborating, to in the end create something not just personal, but relevant and, possibly, even amazing on any number of levels. In my case we do it through music, but it’s a methodology that I believe could be applied to all fields. It’s why I don’t just think, but KNOW, what we do in Music matters more than just to improve test score and keep students in school.

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

I didn’t. I have honestly been the absurdly lucky beneficiary of circumstance. For all my schooling and degrees and gigging and musical experiences of so many kinds (I am truly grateful for and proud of all of it) the fact is that through it all I found myself ever more interested in truly exploring my own creative process. And it became clear over time that the best way to do that was to help others do the same. It’s because of that that I prefer the term “facilitator.” That’s not meant to be semantics; it’s just that “teacher” implies a kind of selflessness and expertise I don’t know that I can claim. And that’s not false modesty, though I get it that it might come off that way. I am simply totally captivated by the notion of “what can be created?” And I get to spend my days exploring all the possibilities that that implies with my students. There is nothing better!

Q: Please describe your music program. And what role do you believe your music program plays in the overall fabric of the school?

I don’t know that I can answer that exactly, because I don’t really think of it in that context. On the surface the Music program I created, CMAS (Contemporary Music And Sound – is a full record label that is run entirely by the students. All writing, recording, producing, and performing their own music, with no musical restrictions of any kind, all while earning as much as 27 hours of college credit. I have students working on original orchestral scores, next to those working on aggressive Metal songs, next to Hip-Hop, next to Jazz, Country and so on. It validates them on a deep, creative level . . .

Certainly, we have a rather strong presence on campus, and we’ve had a great amount of luck to be continually visible in the community.  

But past all the novelty of CMAS and the public awareness, I’d like to think what it really represents is an opportunity, really a safe place is a more accurate concept I think, for students to explore their creative potential. Students know that they can come in and no matter what their musical interest might be, they will be able to go as far with it as they can/want. My job is not to tell them what they have to do, it’s to help them figure out what they want to do, and I think they know that. In that regard CMAS is a kind of creative safe-haven.

Q: Any thoughts on the GRAMMY Educator process? Was it nerve-wracking or something you didn’t think about very much?

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to win, or that I did not think about it; but the truth is that there was never a bad moment. I was continually amazed, stunned may be a better word — every time I was moved on in the process. And regardless, the amount of incredible PR and coverage and public awareness this brought to my students and their work was just unreal to me. I am so grateful to the GRAMMY™ Foundation.

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

NAfME creates a community. Creates a possibility of connections. Creates a chance to continue to grow and evolve. On a personal level I really value that. What I do is not extraordinary. It’s not. It’s unique. I am hoping that will change now. Being a member of NAfME means that I have the opportunity to help others take what I’ve been ridiculously lucky to create with CMAS and take it so much further. For all I have been so fortunate to accomplish, I am mostly self-taught with regard to what I do. Imagine what might be possible with people who are well trained. The prospect of helping to facilitate that is thrilling to me to s
ay the least, and being a part of NAfME helps to make that possible.  

 Photo Courtesy of Richard Maxwell

Roz Fehr, NAfME Communications Content Developer, February 26, 2015 © National Association for Music Education (