He did it.
Kent Knappenberger, a Westfield Academy and Central School District music teacher, was named Tuesday as the recipient of the inaugural Music Educator Grammy Award, beating out 30,000 other music educators to win the honor.
“I cried when I heard the announcement,” Knappenberger told The Buffalo News, shortly after landing in Los Angeles to commence several days of whirlwind activities relating to his award, all culminating in his attendance at the televised ceremony Sunday evening.
Knappenberger, who said he was surprised when he was nominated for the honor by a pair of former students and the parent of a third former student, said he was even more surprised to make the top 25 list of finalists. By the time he realized he’d made the final round as one of 10 educators nationwide in the running for the Grammy, his surprise had morphed into a bemused incredulity.
And then, during a segment tucked into Tuesday’s “CBS This Morning” show, the unbelievable transpired: Knappenberger’s years of hard work and dedication in his small corner of the world were honored on a national level.
He might be shocked, but those who have studied with him, worked alongside him, and observed him in his daily environment, saw it coming.
“Having watched Kent at work over the past 18 months, I have to say, I’m not surprised at all,” said Westfield Superintendent Dave Davison. “His passion for what he does, the very person he is, the love and concern he has for his students, the life in his eyes when you encounter him every day – Kent has a gift, and he is able to share that gift in an incredibly meaningful way. If ever there was a person who deserves such an honor, well, he’s most definitely that person.”
Knappenberger’s reaction to the news is confirmation of his reputation among his students and fellow educators as a humble man who takes joy in sharing his love for music with others.
“It was very humbling,” he said. “I’m proud to be part of a profession filled with gifted, capable music educators. When I heard the news, I just kept – and I keep on – thinking that I really would like to represent them as best I can. I am so grateful for the opportunity to do that.”
Knappenberger will be honored during a special awards presentation Saturday at the Recording Academy’s Special Merit Awards Ceremony & Nominees Reception, where he will potentially rub shoulders with recipients of this year’s Grammy Lifetime Achievement Awards, among them Kraftwerk, the Isley Brothers, Kris Kristofferson and the two surviving members of a certain band from Liverpool, England that made a big splash in the states 50 years ago.
Is Knappenberger nervous about bumping into a Beatle?
“To be honest, I hope that I can see a classmate of mine from graduate school, who is nominated,” he laughed. “But I plan on taking it all in!”
In addition to the prestige associated with claiming the very first Music Educator Grammy in the history of the Recording Academy, Knappenberg also claimed a $10,000 honorarium for Westfield Academy. Asked what the school might have that money earmarked for, Davison said he had “absolutely no idea” yet.
“But it’s a good problem to have,” he laughed.
Knappenberger has a plan in place, though.
“There are some instruments we would like to purchase, and some sheet music,” he says. “And we also need to help finance an experience for the kids. We’re going to see ‘Newsies’ on Broadway in April!”
In the news release from the Recording Academy and the Grammy Foundation announcing Knappenberger’s Grammy win, President and CEO Neil Portnoy called the Music Educator Grammy an award meant “to highlight the extraordinary influence of music teachers on their students in and beyond the classroom.”
“Many musicians would not be expressing their gift for creativity had it not been for the dedication and encouragement of a music teacher who inspired them to pursue a professional career,” Portnoy’s statement continued.
When asked what he sees as the greatest possible good to come from this prestigious honor, Knappenberger was self-effacing in his response.
“I would like to take the fullest opportunity to communicate the power of what music can do for kids – all kids,” he said. “And also, I hope that this will highlight the success of rural education.”