Sound instruction: New Orleans music teacher is up for a Grammy

ByKim Singletary

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Next Sunday, Feb. 12, music superstars like Beyoncé, Rihanna and Kanye West will be among those at the 59th annual Grammy Awards at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Joining them may be a face more familiar to many New Orleans students: Keith Hart, music director at KIPP Believe College Prep Middle School in the Hollygrove neighborhood.

Hart is one of only 10 music educators in the country to be named finalists for the Grammy Music Educator Award. Created by the Recording Academy and Grammy Foundation in 2014, the award is designed to recognize the role music educators play both in creating the musical talent celebrated each year and in the daily lives of students in the U.S.

Hart, who founded the KIPP music program 11 years ago, said it was designed to focus on teaching both “the fundamentals of music and the fundamentals of being a good human being.” His goal: to transform lives through music.

As Hart helps students tackle the challenges of learning to read music and play an instrument, he’s also helping them to see the parallels in tackling the challenges in their lives, whether that’s a parent who was killed or is in jail, or just the daily pressures and struggles of middle school life.

When Hart was nominated for the honor last March, he was one of more than 3,300 educators hailing from all 50 states under consideration. That list is now down to 10 finalists, and Hart is the only one from Louisiana.

If he wins, he not only gets to attend the Grammys to receive his prize but he also walks away with $10,000 for his school. The final decision will be announced next week.

“That is money that could really be useful in broadening the impact of music education in the school,” Hart said.

A New Orleans native, Hart said he loves working with middle school students, as it was in middle school that he fell in love with music.

“I attended Charles J. Colton — which is now a KIPP school, actually — and it was in that program that I learned not only music, but the intangibles like a love of self and culture and community,” Hart said. “I knew that someday I wanted to continue that legacy — that focus on truth, goodness and beauty.”

Hart has been widely recognized for his work, with recent accolades including the Kipp National Excellence in Teaching Award; Band Director of the Year District VI of the Louisiana Music Educators Association for three years; and Exemplary Music Program from Festival Disney.

Hart also was featured as the lead band director, Mr. Lecour, in HBO’s hit series “Treme.”

Although he is excited about the Grammy opportunity — and the $1,000 honorarium and matching $1,000 grant for KIPP Believe that he will receive for being a finalist — Hart said he is most proud of the difference his program has made, and continues to make, in the lives of local youth.

Among his successes are former students who now play with Wynton Marsalis or study obstetrics at LSU.

“We’ve had colleges come in to recruit our middle school students,” he said, adding, “but even for the ones that don’t continue on in music, the lessons they learn can be applied to anything. No matter what, they all come out knowing they can face any challenge that comes their way.”

Nominations are now being accepted for the 2018 Grammy Music Educator Award at Nominations can be made by anyone, and teachers can nominate themselves.