by Fred Gretsch
Savannah Arts Academy music instructor Vann Thornton (left) with Fred and Dinah Gretsch and student bandmembers holding the Grammy Signature School award.
On May 16 my wife Dinah and I had the singular privilege of presenting the GRAMMY® Foundation’s Signature Schools Enterprise Award to the Savannah Arts Academy.
Just as the GRAMMY Award recognizes excellence in recording, the GRAMMY Foundation Signature Schools program honors public high schools for outstanding commitment to their music education programs. As members of the Savannah community we were particularly pleased to present this award to the Savannah Arts Academy.
More than 20,000 public high schools nationwide have the opportunity each year to apply for consideration as a GRAMMY Signature School. Each school submits an online application and recorded performances as supplemental materials. These materials are screened and evaluated. They are then adjudicated anonymously by the GRAMMY Foundation’s blue ribbon committee of music educators and industry professionals.
Out of all the schools that applied this year, only twelve were selected as GRAMMY Signature Schools, with only seven of those additionally named as Enterprise award recipients. That category recognizes efforts made by schools that are economically underserved, and the award comes with a $5,500 grant.
Dinah and I were thrilled when we learned that Savannah Arts Academy was one of those seven, because music education is a cause that’s incredibly important to us. We’ve both campaigned for many years to effect progress in this area. Dinah in particular has worked tirelessly as an advocate for change, including establishing the Mrs. G’s Music Foundation in 2010 to support music programs in rural schools.
The Savannah Arts Academy has put tremendous effort into a visionary new Music Industry/Pop Music Ensemble class that they’ve dubbed the “American Music Project.” This class fills a niche in the popular music idiom, and is designed to train the next members of the music industry establishment in sound design, lighting, management, performance, and dance. In fact, the program utilizes all of the school’s arts offerings in one class.
The class is student-led under the guidance of a gifted instructor/mentor. The American Music Project has twenty-one members who choreograph dances, learn and write music, arrange horns and strings for that music, lead the musical rehearsals, rehearse singers, and run sound. But in setting up this unique program they faced a serious challenge: very little equipment, and no funds with which to add any.
The GRAMMY Foundation’s Blue Ribbon Committee thought that Savannah Arts Academy had very progressive ideas for expanding extracurricular offerings. They recognized a forward-looking school that was handicapped by a lack of resources. Fortunately, they were in a position to help. They named the school as one of the Enterprise Award winners, thus supplying them with the funds necessary to purchase new sound equipment for the American Music Project.
The award presentation on May 16 was quite an impressive and enjoyable event. It was held on the front lawn of the Savannah Arts Academy, at 500 Washington Avenue. It proved to be a beautiful spring day, and the setting was classic all-American: a big family crowd gathered in front of an old-style red brick high-school building. More than 100 musicians performed in symphonic, jazz, and even blues bands. And I’m proud to say that several Gretsch drumkits were included in the ensemble of gear.
Savannah Arts Academy music instructor Vann Thornton displays the $5,500 check representing the Enterprise Award that recognized the school's innovative music program.
Finally it was time for the presentation ceremony itself. This was a chance for Dinah and me to speak to our Savannah community about the commitment of the GRAMMY Foundation—and the Gretsch family—to quality high-school music programs. It was my personal honor to represent the GRAMMY Foundation as a member of the Atlanta Chapter of the Recording Academy. The Foundation is the charitable arm of the Recording Academy, with a mission of cultivating awareness, appreciation, and advancement of the contribution of recorded music on American culture. One of the ways they do that is to support music education through programs such as GRAMMY Signature Schools.
On behalf of the Foundation and the Recording Academy I offered congratulations to the school, to the music-program instructors, to the parents of the music students, and, of course, to those students themselves. The faculty and the students were overjoyed to receive the GRAMMY award—and the cash award too, which came in the form of a giant check.
I want to encourage everyone who’s reading this to visit GRAMMYinTheSchools.com to learn how the GRAMMY Foundation supports and advocates for the inclusion of quality music education in all schools, from elementary through high school. And for those who might be interested, applications for 2015 Signature Schools award consideration are available online at that same web site. The deadline to apply is Oct 22 of this year.
A happy Savannah Arts Academy student holds the Grammy award aloft for all to see.