For every music performer who has earned a Grammy award, there have been one or more music educators supporting their career.
Courtney Powers, music director at South Philadelphia High School, is in the running for a Grammy of her own for her work in music education.
Courtney is currently one of 25 semifinalists for the award.
A Kansas native, Courtney was raised in a trailer park in the small town of Leon. In middle school Courtney began playing French horn, which was the beginning of a long love of music.
“As I entered sixth grade my (now retired) band director, Lynn Harrington of Augusta, told me about the French Horn. He said that it was an instrument that most people didn't play, and that I could get a scholarship if I got good at it. I was hooked,” Courtney said.
And she did get better at it. Courtney became so proficient at playing the French horn that her family supported her in a move to Wichita, where there were more opportunities for exposure and growth for her.
“I lived in the trailer park, but it was my home, and my mom made me feel like we were wealthy with her grit and determination,” Courtney said. “My aunt and grandma were always there for me, which is why my mom and I made the move to Wichita in high school.”
“I had to be proactive in my search for opportunities to play in ensembles and receive scholarships all through high school,” Courtney said. “I was able to go to Hawaii and Chicago with the Kansas Lions Band for next to nothing with fundraising and bake sales.”She went to Heights High School in Wichita and then Cowley College. Courtney attributes her early music successes to her willingness to ask for help and build a network.
She spent two years at Wichita State. She actually took English 101 courses through WSU during high school, receiving dual credit paid for by Heights.
“That was such a neat opportunity to receive a scholarship from my high school to attend college at 17,” Courtney said.
She hoped to become an inner-city teacher, so she transferred to Berklee College of Music in Boston, where she earned a bachelor of arts degree in music education. Courtney then received her master of arts in education in 2015 from Villanova University in Pennsylvania.
Courtney admits that despite graduating from prestigious schools, it didn’t get easier. She accumulated substantial student loan debt.
Her purpose carries her through the challenges.
“It was a hard choice to make, but I wanted to teach in an inner city. I wanted to teach music citizenship to underprivileged students like me,” Courtney said.
In her 12 years of teaching since receiving her bachelor’s degree, she has worked in schools, community bands and choruses in Massachusetts, Texas and Pennsylvania. Her teaching has expanded to include modern band, guitar, ukulele, drama and general music classes.
She hopes to be a voice of grit and determination for her students, like her mother and grandmother were for her.
“Urban and rural students have so much in common, and I am lucky to be able to reach the students I do. It takes a lot of work and mental anguish to hear the stories of trauma my students face daily,” Courtney said.
The Grammy Music Educator Award is intended to bring attention to the excellent and impactful work being done by thousands of music teachers across the U.S. It is given to an instructor in private or public schools who teaches kindergarten through college students.
Best of luck, Courtney.