Lisa Patno Bianconi, music teacher at Kurn Hattin in Westminster, is one of 10 finalists for the first-ever Grammy Music Educator Award.
WESTMINSTER — Kurn Hattin music teacher Lisa Patno Bianconi herded 26 fidgety students onto a school bus here Friday after a long week of classes, then into formal wear and finally onto the stage of Brattleboro’s Latchis Theatre, only to backtrack home in a slippery winter storm.
“This is such a great experience for them to be with a Grammy Award winner,” she said of her efforts.
Bianconi was talking about the chance to perform with internationally acclaimed fiddler Natalie MacMaster.
Then again, if her young singers wanted Grammy exposure, they could have stayed in their dorms, turned on a television and watched the live nominations show taking place at the same time — the one where Bianconi was named a top 10 finalist for the first-ever Music Educator Award.
“I feel as if I am in a dream,” Bianconi, a teacher for nearly three decades, said Saturday. “To make it to this level is a very surreal experience.”
Growing up in Rutland, Bianconi started piano lessons at age 5 and was proficient in band and chorus by the time she graduated from high school in 1981. But going off to college in neighboring New Hampshire, she minored in chemistry just in case she couldn’t find a job teaching music.
Enter Kurn Hattin, a 119-year-old boarding school for grade 1-8 students seeking what the private nonprofit institution describes as “a secure and supportive haven during a troubled period in their families’ lives.”
Since her hiring at age 21, Bianconi has taught every music class, instrumental lesson and band, choir and vocal program — spurring her school to nominate her for the new Grammy Music Educator Award, introduced to recognize teachers “who have made a significant and lasting contribution to the field.”
This past spring, Bianconi was selected one of 217 quarterfinalists from more than 30,000 candidates from all 50 states. She then had to complete a 500-word “philosophy of education” essay. This past fall, she was selected one of 25 semifinalists. She then had to sit down for a formal interview.
Fate scheduled Friday’s Grammy announcement on the same night as Kurn Hattin’s appearance before a capacity crowd at the 750-seat Latchis Theatre. That’s why Bianconi saw her selection on a restaurant television across the street 15 minutes after the concert’s conclusion.
“All these people were watching this high-intensity basketball game, and they turned the channel for me.”
Bianconi was nominated alongside fellow teachers from Scottsdale, Ariz., Miami, Las Vegas, Edison, N.J., Westfield, N.Y., Plano, Texas, and Chesapeake, Fairfax and Falls Church, Va. The winner, to be announced in January, will fly to Los Angeles to accept a $10,000 honorarium and attend the 56th annual Grammy telecast.
Bianconi credits Kurn Hattin’s 105 students, her full-time assistant, five volunteers, family, friends and fellow staffers for helping the music program offer almost 40 performances a year.
That said, does she want to win? In her mind, she already has — and not just because each of the top 10 finalists will receive a $1,000 honorarium and matching grants for their schools.
“I feel privileged,” she said, “just being a teacher to these talented kids.”
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