Buffalo Grove orchestra teacher a semifinalist for Grammy Music Educator Award

Buffalo Grove orchestra teacher a semifinalist for Grammy Music Educator Award

Exactly 20 years ago, Elizabeth Bennett celebrated as her high school's groundbreaking music program won its first Grammy Signature School Award.

Fast forward to this year, when Bennett herself has been named a semifinalist for the Grammy Music Educator Award for her innovative programs at Buffalo Grove High School.

Bennett finds out next month whether she will be named one of 10 finalists. As it is, she is the only semifinalist from Illinois.

In her classes at Buffalo Grove High School, Elizabeth Bennett strives to promote all the possibilities in music careers as a powerful force that brings cultures together. Courtesy of District 214

The award recognizes current educators who have made a significant contribution to music education, and who demonstrate a broader commitment to maintaining music education in schools.

"(Helping my high school win a Grammy) made a huge impact on me, and has continued to motivate me ever since," says Bennett, who attended Valley High School in West Des Moines, Iowa. "It really feels like I've come full circle. What a thrill to experience."

Bennett serves as director of the three orchestras at Buffalo Grove, but that's just the start of her impact at the school. This semester she started a Music Workshop class aimed at giving more students an experience in music.

"I thought, there has to be a way to get more students involved," Bennett says. "Music should not be available for only a certain type of student, it should be available for all."

The course is structured somewhat like an independent study, in that students can choose what area of music they'd like to experience. Some are learning to play new instruments, while others are exploring song writing and digital music, while another student is researching music therapy. Interestingly, the class was set for a maximum of 25 students and it's full.

Bennett also brought a series to the school that showcases different career paths in music. There are many more than you think.

Each semester she brings in different professionals to showcase their work. Past presenters have included a professional opera singer, freelance jazz musician, arranger and composer, college admissions officer, engineers who perform in local ensembles and a music therapist. Their presentations regularly draw more than 200 students and faculty members.

Elizabeth Bennett is the only music educator in Illinois to be named a semifinalist for the Grammy Music Educator Award. Courtesy of District 214

She rounds out the series with an end of the year field trip. Last year, Bennett arranged for a backstage tour of the Lyric Opera of Chicago, where students asked questions and watched some of a rehearsal before seeing a performance of "West Side Story."

"This series has had a great response, and it has opened the eyes of many students to showcase that music is not only viable," Bennett says, "but it is an area where one can thrive and change the world for the better."

"And, yes," she adds, "interest in students pursuing music beyond high school has risen."

Principal Jeff Wardle also credits Bennett with bringing AP Music Theory to schools throughout Northwest Suburban High School District 214, as well as starting Buffalo Grove's annual Winter Celebration outreach to the community.

He also highlighted Bennett's commissioning of "Solaces," an orchestral piece written in commemoration of three young teachers at Buffalo Grove who passed away during the 2017-2018 school year.

"In the five years I have served as principal, no single teacher has had a greater impact at the most critical times in the life of our school than Elizabeth Bennett," Wardle said.

High praise for this young teacher, who is driven to show students - and her colleagues - what a vital role music plays in our world.

"I'm from Iowa," she says simply. "I believe that 'if you build it, they will come.'"

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