GRAMMY Finalist William Bennett: Students Make So Many Connections Through the Study of Music

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William J. Bennett, director of choirs, Cane Bay High School Director, Summerville, South Carolina and College of Charleston adjunct professor of music

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 10 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.

GRAMMY Finalist William Bennett answered some questions from NAfME.

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

I believe that, for most students, music education gives them a place to be a part of something bigger than themselves. We talk a lot in our program about how we are a family, and how we are interconnected to one another. In this way we are all a part of something that only exists when we are all together, but is, at the same time, something larger than any one person. Additionally, music education ties all subject matters together. Students make so many connections through the study of music, especially choral music. Throughout a rehearsal we discuss anatomy, biology, physics, history, language, mathematics and so many other topics! Music connects the world together in a way that no other medium can!

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

I have always had a deep love of music and a passion for performing. I first learned music through my middle school band, and high school band and choral programs. I went to college with plans to attend medical school and while in college I fell in love with choral music. I feel that it is my calling in this world to be a choir director and share my love and passion for this music with those around me. I have also been blessed to have worked with some amazing music educators and their voices echo in my mind daily!

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

I teach about 15% of the student population, and, including former students, have taught closer to 30% of the student population through music appreciation courses and former choir students. Our choral program has served as a flagship ensemble for our school. We have performed at three state conferences (two NAfME conferences and one ACDA Conference), and we have placed as high as second place in our State Choral Festival. There are some people in our state who only know about our school because of our choral program. Our program is one of the most supported and prominent programs on campus. We are connected to the community and perform constantly for various community events. Most of all, however, we have students from all walks of the school and have earned the respect of our entire school community.  Our school opened in 2008 and the choir has served as the face of the school since day one!

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

The GRAMMY Music Educator Award process has been life-changing for me. It has brought attention and recognition to our choral program and given us exposure that we have never had before. The process was incredibly exciting, humbling and fun! It was humbling to hear my peers, colleagues and former students saying incredible things about what our choral program means to them. It was also humbling to know the quality and caliber of the musicians who also made the quarterfinal, semifinals and finals. Obviously, each round we advanced was exciting and so much fun to have this recognition. It wasn’t really nerve-wracking until the finalists were announced, and it was a part of daily conversations.

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

My NAfME membership has been invaluable to my career! By attending various workshops, conferences, and clinics over the years I have been able to create a network of colleagues that I have learned an incredible amount from. I look forward to all of the NAfME events each year because I know I will come away from them energized and with new “tricks” to throw in my teaching bag.

 Photo Courtesy of William Bennett

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