Band-tastic! Kathy Stefani and her Grangeville High School students on their way to success
LHSOM Alumna Kathy Stefani '83, '10 led her Grangeville High School students to Disney performance and possible Grammy success
Spring is a busy time for the Grangeville High School Concert Band and director Kathy Stefani ’83, '10 with long practices to prepare for the 68-member group’s trip to Disneyland and March 20 performance.
In March 2015, the entire school was also anxiously awaiting to hear if the Idaho high school receives recognition as a Grammy Signature School and a grant that could amount to $10,000.
The Grammy Foundation selected Grangeville High School as one of the Grammy Signature Schools’ 120 semifinalists for 2015. GHS was the only school in Idaho chosen.
Since 1998, the Grammy Signature Schools program has recognized top U.S. public high schools that are making an outstanding commitment to music education during an academic school year.
Grangeville district’s success certainly can be credited to its music education program, especially its program director at the junior and senior high school level.
Nearly 300 students at Grangeville Elementary/Middle School (GEMS) and High School see this high-energy music director, Mrs. Kathy Gardner (Carlson) Stefani, daily and enjoy every minute.
Stefani earned her Bachelor of Music Education in 1983 and a Master of Music Education in 2010. She teaches 6th Grade Beginning Band, 7/8 Middle School and Senior High Band, 9-12 Guitar, History of Rock and Roll for UI Dual Credit, and Concert Choir and Varsity Blue Select Choir. One morning a week she is with the grades 6-8 Middle School Choir.
“Most of my teaching has been in K-12 music education where I had a mixture of all ages and the only music teacher on staff,” she said.
The Grangeville schedule is most demanding because all but one class is a performance class with numerous outside performances each. She teaches six periods a day. Out of school, she finds time to play guitar at the Baptist Church services in White Bird where her husband currently is the pastor.
Every one of her students know that their growth in music is important to Stefani. “Music should be accessible to all students, not just those with the most talent, the most money or the highest test scores,” she said. “Musical expression is not a privilege, it's a must.
“My goal is to take students of all abilities and challenge them to reach potential they did not know they had,” Stefani said. “The standard is set high, but the reward is great.”
A strong program can come with additional stress.
“Pressure to grow the program is not so great,” she said. “(However) Working to keep all the plates spinning at one time becomes more difficult as the numbers increase.”
The popular teacher also worries how she can keep a personal touch in the admired program.
“Occasionally I worry about running out of new ideas, finding new choices of quality that will interest the students, but the kids are a fountain of new ideas every year,” she said.
The students must work in order to be part of only two groups. Varsity Blue Choir is a true audition class, usually consisting of upper classmen. The Senior High band requires a proficiency score of a B or higher by the end of 8th grade to continue at the senior level.
Stefani said she never knows what student or group will make the day memorable.
“Nothing is better than the ‘we got it!’ moments, whether working with an individual student or a full-sized concert band,” she said. “There's electricity in the air when you are creating the sound you've been working on.”
Solving a problem that has been a nemesis in rehearsal and watching students "own" the music they've been working on continues to bring a smile to her face.
“I have students in the front row of my band who have very difficult parts and I often see them ‘pound it’ in mid-song when they nail some of the hardest passages,” Stefani said.
Beginning Band can be one of the most rewarding as each day is new, watching kids discover talent they never knew they had and working as a group to achieve a goal, she said.
“Many have not experienced that but it's infectious,” the director said. “Watching a group experience applause for the first time or hear encouragement from an adjudicator, bring a huge smile.”
Stefani, too, faces the challenges of funding her exceptional program.
“Currently, financing is a big challenge,” she said. “Over the years, money has been eliminated from the budget for instrument replacement/repairs and most recently, for travel.”
District and state events used to be reimbursed to a degree by the state, but no longer. The burden to fill in the gap - even for operational expenses - by fundraising falls on the staff, students and parents, she said.
“The ‘we got it’ moments keep me going and help to put things in perspective,” Stefani said.
Before joining the faculty in the Grangeville School District in 2006, she taught in Fernley, Nev.; Cambridge, Council and Cottonwood, Idaho; and Palouse-Garfield (school district), Wash.
It was during her time in Council that Stefani became familiar with the Grammy program.
“While teaching in Council, the music program won a Grammy Signature Award, but that was prior to monetary awards as part of the honor,” she said.
By attending festivals and through grant-writing, the Grammy Foundation contacted Stefani a number of years ago to apply for the award. All schools may apply, but they also have a list of schools that are invited or encouraged to apply.
She applied and Grangeville schools received the semi-final status four years ago. Stefani said she has been invited to apply every year since, but this year several things seemed to be in their favor, so she tried again.
“I now have a Masters which I did not have before,” she said. “I also now offer the dual enrollment class, which is innovative.”
Grangeville currently has 147 kids of its 250 students in music at the high school which. The number is a remarkable percentage for a music department since she is at the high school only four periods of the day.
Those numbers help with not only awards but also for grant writing, which Stefani also does frequently.
“Most schools shoot for 10 percent of the student body in the music program.” She said. “We have 27 percent in our band alone.”
The program also has earned recognition for its efforts.
“We’ve had a Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival solo winner and have earned Gold at Heritage festivals twice since our last submission,” Stefani said.
Much of the local budget was reinstated from cuts in 2008, which also will help the music program in its goal of a Grammy Award.
‘We also had some excellent recordings of our students doing higher level literature,” she said. “In years past, we had to list every song in our entire library. The kids and I put a great deal of work into it.”
This year required precise audio submissions, again requiring student time and expertise.
In addition to the March awards announcement, the community will be waiting another award outcome:
Stefani is a nominee for the Grammy Teacher of the Year for the year. The announcement should come in mid-March.
Article by Sue Hinz, College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences