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Saranac Lake music teacher Drew Benware is a Grammy semifinalist

October 27, 2017
By GLYNIS HART - For the News ( , Lake Placid News

SARANAC LAKE - Drew Benware, director of choral activities at Saranac Lake High School, has been named a semifinalist for the 2018 Grammy Music Educator of the Year Award.

The "Grammy for music teachers" was founded on the idea that for every performer who makes it to the Grammy stage, there's a great music teacher in the background. Only full-time music teachers in public or private schools are eligible for the award. This will be the fifth year since the award was started by the Recording Academy and the Grammy Museum.

Benware was chosen to be a quarterfinalist last spring and recently received word that he has been further selected as a semifinalist. Twenty-five music teachers become semifinalists. In the next round of selection, nine will be named finalists, and then one winner will be chosen.

The winner of the Music Educator of the Year Award is awarded $10,000 and the additional finalists receive $1,000. As a semifinalist, Benware is in line to receive a $500 grant, and Saranac Lake Central School will also receive $500.

"It's pretty crazy," Benware said Monday, Oct. 23, in between teaching classes and helping students. "Apparently the process is that someone nominates a music teacher - in this case it was a parent of a former student - and from there, the committee sends out a questionnaire."

The nominees then have to submit recommendations from people, answer questions about their teaching philosophy and eventually upload a video of themselves teaching. Nominations are sent in from all 50 states.

Benware, a native of North Bangor in Franklin County, is involved in almost every singing opportunity around Saranac Lake. He conducts the SLHS Festival Chorus, Concert Choir, Men's Ensemble and Women's Ensemble, and serves as the music director for the annual musical theater production, as well as teaching small groups and individuals on the side. He also directs a regional adult select chorus he started, the Northern Adirondack Vocal Ensemble.

He holds both a Bachelor of Music degree in music education with a concentration on the trumpet and a Master of Music degree in choral conducting from the Ithaca College School of Music.

"Honestly, I feel sheepish," said Benware. "Remember, that's the top 25 of people who were submitted. Millions of great teachers were not. To look around at the students I've taught and the people I've worked with, all I can say is I'm humbled to be a representative of all the great teaching in the North Country, but I don't stand alone."

Benware said he'd been notified three weeks ago but wasn't allowed to tell anyone until CBS broke the story on Oct. 18.

Benware said his greatest challenge in teaching music is something he'd learned, first from other teachers and then from his own experience: "You can't want it more than they do. And you can't do it for them. If they don't want to hold a note for four counts, you can't do it for them.

"The opportunity exists for me as a teacher to create an environment where they want to hold that note for four counts, to sweep them up in a music program where they're interested and engaged. My mantra to them has been, 'Be here now.'"

As a teacher, said Benware, you can't control the stresses the students have outside the classroom, or what goes on in other classrooms. A student may have just taken a test, or be distracted by stuff at home.

"I tell them, 'Be here now. You can't control anything outside of this room, but while you're here you can focus on music.'"



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