GHS named a 2014 Grammy Signature semi-finalist

"There's Donner and Dasher..." Guilderland High School Chamber Choir members Avery Maycock, left, Marisa Siino, and Casey Chase sing "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," the 1939 Johnny Marks classic, as they model outrageous Christmas sweaters. The Chamber Choir members were filmed Monday morning at the Mynderse-Frederick House for a program to air on Channel 16.

GUILDERLAND — For the fifth year in a row, Guilderland High School has been recognized as a Grammy Signature School semi-finalist, based upon the quality and caliber of the music-education program in the school.

As the Grammy Award, originally named the Gramophone Award, signifies excellence in recording, the Signature Schools award is designed to honor exceptional public high school music programs. Guilderland was recognized among the top 123 high schools in the nation.

“Here in Guilderland, we’re very lucky,” said Lori Hershenhart, the district’s music supervisor when asked how Guilderland managed to garner the Grammy recognition so frequently. “First and foremost, we have a wonderful teaching staff. We have the support of the community and the parents. And we have great kids.”

Semi-finalists are invited to submit recorded performances and repertoire lists. The high school music faculty — Susan Curro, Kathleen Ehlinger, Lee Russo, and Rae Jean Teeter — decided on the recorded submissions.

School concerts, all of which are free and open to the public, are recorded.

“They looked at the recordings for last year, following the guidelines in each category,” said Hershenhart yesterday. “Lee mixed them,” she said of Russo who teaches music technology. The online submission was sent last week.

The schools with the best music programs in the country will be recognized as Grammy finalists. The top schools receive grants between $1,000 and $10,000, and the very top finalists have Grammy Award-winning performers come to their schools.

Hershenhart said it would be tough for Guilderland to break into that upper echelon. “It’s just a handful,” she said. “Often, there’s not anyone from the East Coast and it usually goes to performance arts schools.”

Through another program, the Guilderland High School Concert Choir has been invited three times to perform at Carnegie Hall in New York City. This fall, a fund-raising drive was launched and a performance was scheduled for March, but the cost was found to be too great, Hershenhart said yesterday.

The invitations came after the choir had won gold medals at Heritage Festivals. The choir’s director, Rae Jean Teeter, had calculated that paying for four days in New York City, the rental of the hall, and the conductor would come to $1,000 per student.

“It was too much of a financial burden for parents,” said Hershenhart. “In these financial times, it wasn’t feasible. Rather than creating hardships for students and their families, they’ll take a one-day trip to New York City.”

The mixed choir, directed by Starr Norman, will go on the trip as well. The students will see a Broadway show and have a back-stage tour set up by one of the choir member’s parents, said Hershenhart.

“Reflective process”

The selection process for the Grammy recognition begins each year in August when the foundation mails notification to more than 20,000 public high schools, asking for information about each school’s music program. Applications are completed and submitted online in October.

After the applications are scored, semi-finalists are asked to submit additional documentation, such as recordings, sample concert programs, and repertoire.

The screening, based in Santa Monica, Calif., is done by leading music educators and industry professionals; they announce the winners in January.

“They do a blind listening,” Hershenhart said earlier, meaning the judges don’t know, when they listen to performances from various schools, which school it is.

“They are marvelous musicians in their own right and have a critical ear,” she said.

Hershenhart noted that the music program at Guilderland begins in the earliest grades and builds through the middle school and high school.

“It’s a reflective process,” Hershenhart said of applying for a Grammy Signature award. The reflection is good for the program, she told The Enterprise of applying in 2009. “We’re always looking to grow forward,” said Hershenhart.

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