Local teacher nominated for a GRAMMY

Wednesday, June 18, 2014 - 23:00

Make that GRAMMY nomination number two for Homestead Elementary School’s long-time music teacher and popular local area folk singer/guitarist Robin Hopper. She’s in the same spot she was this time last year: one of the quarter finalists in the GRAMMY In The Schools Music Educator Award competition, jointly sponsored by The Recording Academy and the GRAMMY Foundation.

She feels as if she’s already won just being part of the process.

“Who knows where it will go,” Hopper said with a whimsical chuckle. “Just to be nominated in the first place is very, very humbling. And to make the quarter finals two years in a row is just mind boggling to me.”

She is one of 222 quarter finalists selected from among 208 U.S. cities in 41 states, according to a press release issued by the Anchorage School District. The quarter finalists were selected from more than 7,000 nominations representing each of the 50 states. In September, the field of candidates will be narrowed to 25 teachers in the semi-finals. In December, the program is slated to select ten finalists from which the overall winner will be announced at the Special Merit Awards Ceremony during GRAMMY Week 2015, which is scheduled for the first week of February.

Nine of December’s finalists receive $1,000 for their own professional development and $1,000 for their school’s music program. The overall winner receives $10,000 and is flown to Los Angeles to participate in GRAMMY Week 2015 and attend the awards show.

Hopper isn’t thinking that far in advance, she said.

For now, she’s simply content to have fulfilled all the requirements for advancing to the semi-finals: Three different videos answering a variety of questions covering a gamut of topics from the role music plays in her life, her philosophy of teaching music, the value of music education in the classroom, how she promotes music education, her challenges and rewards as a music educator as well as snippets of her on the job and comments from former students and other educators regarding her influence in their lives and in the school setting.

Wow. That’s a whole lot of information, she thought.

Acquiring that last bit of video took a bit of political maneuvering. Part of the selection process from being nominated to making the quarter finals and then the official announcement of the list of quarter finalists in May included a gag order issued by the program’s sponsors.

“We were not allowed to tell anyone,” Hopper said, noting she received word of making the quarter finals cut on April 29 when there were only 17 more days left in the 2013-2014 ASD school year.

That presented a bit of a problem. Directors of the nationwide program didn’t factor the fact that Alaska schools let out significantly earlier than do schools in the Lower 48 when its official announcement dates and submission deadlines for quarter finalists were set. A few phone calls later chock full of scheduling explanations and Hopper received permission to tell students selected for the “teaching” portion of the video, their parents and school administrators about the nomination prior the release of the official press release around Memorial Day weekend.

Then she and son, Grady Hopper, got busy.

“Grady spent hours and hours behind the camera,” Hopper said. “He did all the editing. I am so thankful to him for his help.”

Now when she watches her quarter finalist videos on Youtube, she gets a bit sentimental. One of the videos features comments from former student Chelsea Berry, a 29-year-old singer/songwriter often compared to Joni Mitchell in the music press. Berry is now based out of Boston working with Livingstone Taylor, a singer/songwriter who has recorded several albums with Capricorn Records and toured with Linda Ronstadt and is now a music performance instructor at Berklee College of Music.

Berry calls Hopper, “the most influential teacher she ever had.” In the video, she details how her parents took her to Hopper’s professional folk concerts and how Hopper took Berry under her wing outside of the school day teaching her to play guitar and the art of song writing privately and via song-writing camps.

“I always loved music and would have ended up pursing it in one way or another,” Berry said. “But Robin helped shape who it is that I have become and I am so grateful for that.”

Hopper’s heartstrings were plucked when she heard the words of her former student.

“I was so humbled,” Hopper said. “I just cried.”

Of course, her emotions were already a bit primed as another former student, Hannah (Bjornstad) Johnstone had just finished detailing the role Hopper played in her decision to become a music educator.

Now as a the K-6 music teacher at Kasuun Elementary School in Anchorage, Johnstone still relies on her former teacher through the district’s mentoring program.

“I am still learning a lot from Robin,” Johnstone said. “Whenever I need an answer, I got to her.”


Music mentor

Hopper with her 36 years of teaching experience said she gets just as much from the group of newer music educators she is mentoring. They often bring fresh ideas that broaden Hopper’s perspective as well. Plus, she can regularly interact with the future of music education – a subject for which she is extremely passionate – and see the fruit of her own labors a couple decades ago in today’s professional development of former students.

Of Johnstone, Hopper said, “she is just a terrific teacher and is going to be a world class educator.”

As if teaching at Homestead where Hopper runs a comprehensive program including music education, instrumentation and dance wasn’t task enough, she also teaches an online course via the University of Alaska Southeast. The course, “Music in the K-8 Classroom” helps prepare non-musical classroom teachers to use music in the regular education classroom.

“It’s great,” Hopper said. “I teach ukulele without ever (physically) meeting my students.”

If anyone can pull that off, it most likely is Hopper. Her Homestead principal Barbara Nagengast, herself a notable educator having been named a 2012 National Distinguished Principal, said of Hopper, “In my 40 years in education, Robin Hopper is far and away the best music educator I have ever worked with.”

Will it be enough to get Hopper on the red carpet next February?

It’s hard to say, she admits. But that’s all right with her. Last year, she didn’t make the semi-finals. Maybe this year, she says. And it isn’t something she will focus too much energy on this summer. She and daughter Caiti, a singer, guitarist and pianist, have a July 20 concert back home in upstate New York at the Russell Opera House in Russell, New York where her grandmother and father performed. The entire Hopper Family Band – Robin singing and playing guitar, husband Bruce sometimes singing but always playing the mandolin guitar, Caiti singing and Grady playing the stand-up bass – are slated to perform opening weekend of the Alaska State Fair in Palmer on the Blue Bonnet Stage.

“If it (the nomination) goes on to the next level that would be great,” Hopper said. “If it is not meant to be, then this is good enough because right now it feels like a million bucks.”

Reach the reporter online via [email protected]. Enter “Amy M. Armstrong” in the subject line.

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