Nate Rau Nashville Tennessean
Published 3:02 PM EDT Apr 30, 2019
The annual CMA Fest highlights the best of country music, shining a spotlight on legendary artists who headline Nissan Stadium and newcomers who play free shows at Riverfront Park.
But there’s more to CMA Fest than four days of music, and millions of dollars in economic impact each June in Nashville. An under-the-radar component of the annual festival is the CMA Foundation, the charitable sister organization of the Country Music Association. CMA Fest serves as a massive fundraiser, with $26 million donated to music education programs across the nation since 2006.
Perhaps no event highlights the success of the CMA Foundation better than the annual Music Teachers of Excellence Awards Tuesday in Nashville, hosted by country artist Dierks Bentley.
The awards are given to top music educations from three divisions: Nashville, the state of Tennessee and across the nation.
The Music Teachers of Excellence Awards, now in its fourth year, was inspired by a conversation between the CMA Foundation and Nashville music teachers. They talked about everything from funding issues to everyday classroom life. But, CMA Foundation Executive Director Tiffany Kearns said another takeaway was that music teachers need reminding how important their jobs are to the communities they serve.
And so, the foundation established its awards to serve as a morale boost and a spotlight on the vital work music educators do in Nashville and across the country. The awards roll out the red carpet for teachers, who are chosen by foundation representatives through a rigorous application and review process that takes multiple months.
“In talking to teachers there were a few themes that kept popping up, and those themes were validation,” Kearns said. “They said, ‘I sit in a school and often the climate is music teachers are an add-on. We’re in addition to the other subjects.’
“So we started talking internally about what do we do to make sure the teachers know they carry so much value, not just to us, but to the community and nationwide?”
Kearns said the foundation wanted to have an event that encourages and inspires music teachers, and hopefully plays a small part in keeping them in the classroom at a time when teacher retention is a pervasive concern.
“These teachers have gone above and beyond in their classrooms to really bring music to life and their commitment and determination has not gone unnoticed,” Bentley said. “As a parent I have seen first-hand the importance of music in my children’s lives and its importance in school programs. Every child deserves the chance to feel the power of music and it’s not possible without supporting these teachers.”
Suggestion by Kix Brooks changed focus of CMA
Kearns said the Music Teachers of Excellence Awards also serves as a reminder to Nashville’s country music community about why CMA Fest is so important.
The festival had always served as a charitable fundraising event. But in 2006, inspired by country artist and CMA board member Kix Brooks, the organization decided to direct its fundraising into a single focus of music education.
In 2011, the CMA spun off its foundation into its own nonprofit organization and that’s when the music education program kicked into another gear.
“Our artists understand that CMA Fest is more than just a four-day event,” Kearns said. “We are focused on our next generation and of course our teachers, who are at the helm, for the next 360 days.”
Kearns said the foundation’s focus on giving is unique in that it doesn’t simply dole out block grants for schools to spend how they will. Instead, foundation leaders identify areas of need within a school or a district. A need might be teacher development or new instruments for a middle school.
A byproduct of the foundation’s giving campaign is increased awareness, according to CMA CEO Sarah Trahern. When stars like Bentley donate their time to perform at the festival in June or to host the awards show for teachers in April, it serves as a refresher for why investment in music education is worth it.
“I think CMA Fest is such a win-win for our community on so many levels,” Trahern said. “It’s just plain good business for any organization today like the CMA to be socially responsible and be a player in that nonprofit world.”
CMA Fest lineup: Brett Young, Cody Johnson, Chase Rice, Hunter Hayes to headline Ascend stage
Reach Nate Rau at 615-259-8094 and [email protected] Follow on Twitter @tnnaterau.
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