Meet Grammy Music Educator of the Year Jared Cassedy

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In February the Recording Academy and Grammy Foundation selected one music educator – from a pool of more than 7,000 nominees – for their 2015 Music Educator Award: Jared Cassedy, the director of bands at Windham High School in Windham, New Hampshire.

This was the latest of several accolades paid to Jared, who was named “Outstanding Young Band Director of the Year” by the New Hampshire Band Director’s Association in 2011, and was nominated for New Hampshire Teacher of the Year in 2014. Under his leadership the WHS Concert band has enjoyed remarkable success:

  • First place division gold medal, highest scoring ensemble, Outstanding Band of Festival Award, and Adjudicator’s Award at Heritage Festival: NYC (2012)
  • Highest concert band score at Festival of Gold: Chicago, Illinois (2013)
  • One of two high school concert bands selected to participate in the NAfME Eastern Division Conference in Hartford, CT (2013)
  • Performed in the National Band and Orchestra Festival at Carnegie Hall in NYC (2014)
  • Performed at the Music for All National Festival in Indianapolis, Indiana (2015)

Clearly directing such a high-performing ensemble necessitates an extremely busy schedule, so I’m very appreciative of the time Jared generously shared with our blog:

What inspired you to become a music educator? Was a particularly influential teacher or mentor part of this decision?

I think what inspired me to be a teacher was my family. I come from a big family of teachers – my siblings, my parents, grandparents, great grandparents. My parents wanted my older sisters, brother, and I to have a well-rounded education so they encouraged us to not only play sports and take part in other clubs and activities, but to also participate in music. We all were to take at least two years of piano lessons and then play a school band instrument. This really encouraged me to pursue music more in-depth.

When I got to high school my band director was extremely influential in my journey. He had such a positive and enthusiastic energy that really propelled me into thinking of music education as a career.

It’s clear you share that positive energy. Is there a secret – or guiding principle – behind your teaching philosophy?

It all comes down to remaining student-focused. I love teaching music, but I use it as my own vehicle for guiding and educating the entire child. The lessons and experiences they have in my classes will hopefully encourage them to find passion and excitement in whatever their own interests are.

In your CBS interview they mentioned you don’t believe in auditions. Can you talk about that?

Indeed, we are an all-inclusive band program. There are students that perform at exceedingly high levels – that have made it into state, regional, and national honor bands – along with students who have just picked up their instrument for the first time. Our program is rooted in the collaboration, sharing, and celebrating of music.

It’s not to say that I do not believe in auditions, but rather that we need to take into consideration each individual student’s raw talents and potential, and provide the support necessary to help to reach that next level of musicianship and achievement.

How has technology in the classroom impacted your teaching?

I consider myself a pretty tech-savvy person and believe that technology has an extremely positive role within our 21st century classroom environments. However, with that being said, trends change very rapidly and there isn’t a day that goes by without a new app or program that promises to change your classroom for the better.

The challenge is weeding through those programs and initiatives to find the resources that fit your program. It’s not a one-size-fits-all learning environment by any means. I do so appreciate that the technology we use can engage our students in an even more effective and efficient way.

How did you first hear about SmartMusic?

I’ve heard about SmartMusic since it was first being developed when I was in college. There were test modules that I knew other music teachers were working with.

When you first implemented SmartMusic, what were you hoping it would offer?

SmartMusic offers an interactive platform that encourages students to practice as well as provides a more meaningful context for practice sessions. I was looking for a way to engage students in their own musical development outside of the classroom. Before SmartMusic, we used practice logs, but they were becoming more and more ineffective.

I would also spend much time during the actual class time writing out exercises on the board and/or explaining them before actually playing them. Now with SmartMusic, we can assign these skills and students can work on them accordingly outside of class time.

Did SmartMusic immediately meet your expectations, or did it take a while?

I would say yes and no. It’s an outstanding practice tool, however, it does take a bit to make it a mainstream part of your curriculum. It’s just a bit of a paradigm shift.

Can you talk a little about this shift, in terms of what was difficult and what you found helped?

The shift occurred when I began considering what role this software application had in my daily teaching. Instead of writing things out myself, I continually had to remind myself that these tools were at my fingertips.

How does SmartMusic fit in your overall teaching style?

It allows me the flexibility to demonstrate certain skills and also for the students to work on specific skills in a more enriching and efficient way.

What do you like best about SmartMusic?

I like that the students can rehearse their music within the context of a full ensemble performing along with them. I also love the amount of exercises that are provided as resources. It holds the students more accountable and provides me the means to really take the time to analyze the progress of the students.

What do your students like best about SmartMusic?

I would say that it’s more engaging to practice than practicing their parts alone with no accompaniment.

What would you like to see improved in SmartMusic?

I love how SmartMusic has an array of exercises and activities. I wish there were even more applicable practice activities and skill building activities specific to the needs of the instrument the students plays. Sometimes we do an exercise, but it’s not adapted the best way for each instrument.

I also hope that the Grade Book can be updated in a way that it loads faster and without delay. It would be great if the program tracked the entire amount of time a student spent on an assignment, not just during a single practice session. Having the program assess and reflect dynamic and articulation markings would also be wonderful.

Finally, having writing capability or putting in specific notes on the music would benefit students as well. Students are always writing in notes to themselves, accidentals, etc. on their own music, but when they do the assignment on SmartMusic, they’re reading off of a clean screen.

What accomplishments are you the proudest of?

I’m most proud of the students and this program. We started off back in 2009 with a brand new high school and only 220 freshmen and sophomores. The band only had 46 students in it. [Today the band has 87 members.] Since then, we’ve worked together to develop a program that is firmly rooted in collaboration and the highest quality music experiences possible. Each and every day the students come to rehearsal and are completely committed to what their roles and responsibilities are within the band.

What is the best part of your day?

Point blank – my students; both in and outside of rehearsal! They are the most amazingly talented and intelligent individuals I have ever had the chance to work with and I feel so privileged to be given the opportunity to collaborate with them.

What do you want your students to remember you for?

I tell my students that when they are 50, 60, 70 years old – and I’m far gone – that I want them to be able to pick up their instrument and not only remember the fingerings for a scale or how to correctly articulate passages, but to remember the experiences they had in the program and (hopefully) how it helped to shape their journey in life on a grander scale. I want them to love the journey of music!

The passion and energy Jared devotes to enriching his students lives on a grander scale is inspiring: I’m glad to share it with you today. Thanks to Jared – and every music educator reading this – for putting our children first.

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