LL Cool J: Make room for Kent

Knappenberger at the piano. Photo courtesy Westfield Academy.

LL Cool J will be there Sunday evening, hosting the 56th Annual Grammy Awards for what the music industry calls its “biggest night of the year.” So will the nominees for best artist in dozens of categories, wrapped in surround sound and full-on glitz.

While most awards aren’t announced until that night, some are selected ahead of time — such as singer and songwriter Carole King, winner of this year’s Music Person of the Year. And Kent Knappenberger.

What? You haven’t ever heard one of his CDs?

That’s because he’s not a celebrity recording artist. He’s a teacher. Knappenberger is the amazing winner of the Grammy’s first-ever Music Educator Award. This Westfield public school music teacher and NYSUT member rose above a crowd thick with 30,000 nominations — that’s 30,000 music educators — to become #1. And the first #1 at that.

Knappenberger — who told Grammy that music is “life abstracted through sound” — is a recipient of the first annual Music Educator Award presented by The Recording Academy and the Grammy Foundation. In his very own Grammy interview, he said that winning it “goes a long way, and will continue to go a long way, in recognizing the important job music educators do.”

Knappenberger is already in Los Angeles — where it’s a lot warmer than home in western New York — and he will receive his award tonight at the Special Merit Awards Ceremony & Nominees Reception. He will also attend the Grammys the next night — tomorrow. He will receive a $10,000 honorarium.

His acknowledgement is music to the ears of so many music educators who are often considered dispensable when it comes to school budget cuts.

“Music programs get cut with regularity,” Kanppenberger said.

“The Recording Academy and the Grammy Foundation created this award to highlight the extraordinary influence of music teachers on their students in and beyond the classroom,” said Neil Portnow, president/CEO of the Grammy Foundation and The Recording Academy. “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.”

Knappenberger believes music is “part of a life well-lived.” And he shares that belief with the scores of students to whom he teaches chorus, grades 6-12. He has been music teacher and choir director at Westfield Academy and Central School for 25 years, and is a graduate of SUNY Fredonia, with a master’s degree in music education, harp performance and literature from Eastman School of Music. He has also served as a volunteer music teacher in Rio de Janeiro.

“He just has an amazing program here,” said Richard Hoffman, president of the Westfield Teachers Association, Knappenberger’s local union. “We’re all very proud; the kids love him.”

In addition to his classes, Knappenberger runs a men’s choir (high school boys), Firecrackers (a girls chorus) and West Winds, a select chorus.

After being nominated for the award, he had to submit a four-minute teaching video, write two essays and submit a separate six-minute video on his teaching philosophies.

When he was announced as one of 10 finalists — and the only one from New York — his school held a grand assembly in his honor, even rolling out a red carpet. A reception in his honor is being held Friday, Jan. 31, at the Westfield Academy and Central School from 6-8.

But meanwhile — ahem — there’s the Grammys to attend!

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