A Hilliard Memorial Middle School music teacher is among 30 of her peers in the country to receive a Music Teachers of Excellence Award from the Country Music Association Foundation.
Kelsey Burkett, 36, of Galloway has taught music for 11 years at Hilliard Memorial Middle School, where she is director of the choral program, instructs Music Alive, a general-music course, and directs the Blue Notes, a select a cappella vocal group of boys and girls, and the Treble Choir, a girls chorus.
"My students know I am super high-energy, and I hope they in turn get that from me," said Burkett, a 2002 graduate of Solon High School in northeast Ohio.
Burkett taught three years at Valley Local School District in Lucasville, near Portsmouth, before arriving at Hilliard City Schools.
She said she began taking piano lessons when she was 6 years old, using a piano purchased from a neighbor.
"My grandmother played the piano, and I really took to it," she said. "I had found I had an ear for it, and it came naturally to me."
Listening to her grandmother's and mother's music at home, often such rhythm-and-blues artists as the Temptations, Marvin Gaye and Aretha Franklin, also was an influence, Burkett said.
"I played and played the soundtrack from 'The Bodyguard,' too," Burkett said, citing vocals by Whitney Houston as an influence from her own generation.
Burkett, who has an undergraduate degree in vocal music education and a master's degree in music education with an emphasis on the Kodaly method – both are from Capital University – applied to the CMA Foundation for consideration.
Tiffany Kerns, executive director of the CMA Foundation and vice president of community outreach for the CMA, said more than 500 music educators applied for the Music Teachers of Excellence Award.
Each award comes with a $5,000 prize, half of which is required to build the school's music program, while the other is used at the educator's discretion, Kerns said.
Of the 30 awards, 10 are bestowed on music educators in or near Nashville, home to the CMA Foundation, another 10 to music educators within Tennessee but outside Nashville and the final 10 to educators from the rest of the U.S., Kerns said.
This is the fifth year for the CMA Foundation's awards. A ceremony for the recipients was planned in Nashville on May 5 but has been postponed to Oct. 20 because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Kerns said.
Founded in 2011, the CMA Foundation established the Music Teachers of Excellence Award to be an ultimate celebration for teachers, who "sacrifice so much" for their students, she said.
"We wanted to bring a sense of gravitas" to music teachers for what they do, Kerns said.
Recipients receive a medallion, modeled after the medallions country-music artists receive when nominated for a CMA Award.
The CMA Foundation also prepares videos in which artists speak, including Keith Urban in one instance, about how a music teacher set them on a path to a successful career, Kerns said.
Artists also attend the annual banquet, with one seated at each of the 30 tables. In the past, they have included Dierks Bentley, Trace Adkins and members of Little Big Town.
Applicants are required to meet advance criteria to be considered, Burkett said. Those include letters of recommendation from administrators, colleagues and parents. Consideration is given to the schools' demographic, as well as the influence of the program on the community and its achievements, she said.
"It's a lengthy application," Kerns said, adding that the prize money for the teachers "is to offset what we found they so often spend" toward strengthening students' music education.
Burkett said she will use the prize money to travel next year to Hungary for further education at the Kodaly Music Institute. The institute offers a music-teacher-education program "based upon the concepts, philosophy and practices developed by the Hungarian composer, linguist, philosopher and educator, Zoltan Kodaly (1882-1967)," according to its website.
The impetus for the CMA Foundation began, in large part, with Kix Brooks, half of the Grammy-Award winning duo Brooks & Dunn.
Brooks' sister was a public-school music teacher who often called him to ask for lightly used replacement instruments for her students, inspiring Brooks to lead the effort to found the CMA Foundation, with the mission of advancing music education, Kerns said.
The CMA Foundation, including the Music Teachers of Excellence Award program, is funded by Nashville's annual CMA Fest, a four-day music festival held the first week of June, Kerns said.