By JEFF CLEMETSON | Mission Times Courier
If three times is indeed a charm, then Allied Gardens resident Crystal Pridmore could be up for a Grammy Award.
For the third time, Pridmore, a music teacher at Myrtle Finney Elementary in Chula Vista, has been nominated for the Music Educator Award — a Grammy that recognizes music educators, kindergarten through college, who have made “a significant and lasting contribution to the field of music education and who demonstrate a commitment to the broader cause of maintaining music education in the schools,” according to the Recording Academy and Grammy Museum which sponsor the award.
Pridmore was one of more than 3,000 teachers nominated for a 2020 award and this year, for the first time, she was selected to be one of 189 quarterfinalists.
“I’m excited to see where this leads, no matter what the outcome of the award is,” she said. “I think it’s neat how a lot of people are taking notice of the work we are doing in Chula Vista.”
A life in music
Music has been a part of Pridmore’s life from the time she was born. Her parents were both musicians — her father a classically trained tenor singer and guitar player, her mother a harpist.
“They were always playing duets,” she said. “And that’s how I went to sleep every night as a little kid — listening to my parents play together.”
Her parents taught her music education early on and by her middle school years, Pridmore found an identity in her school’s music programs.
“Music was my safe place in school. I struggled socially with expressing emotions verbally, but when I played music, I had a place to belong, I was part of a group,” she said, adding that she moved around a lot in her early years and music education eased the awkwardness of meeting new people. “When I was part of band or choir, I had an automatic group of friends.”
It was in middle school when Pridmore was turned on to jazz music, specifically the music of John Coltrane and Mile Davis, which prompted her to pick up the saxophone.
“I think my parents were a little dismayed when I picked alto saxophone as my instrument because it does not blend with a harp or a guitar,” she said. “I guess I was a little rebellious in that way but I really loved jazz music.”
In addition to the school band, Pridmore also played in the local community band in Birmingham, Alabama where she lived at the time. She made her way to first chair in that group where she played with musicians who were sometimes twice her age.
Although she played saxophone through high school, it was her talents as a singer that landed her a scholarship to Point Loma Nazarene College in San Diego where she majored in music education while continuing to study voice for jazz and musical theater.
A new program
Pridmore began her current job teaching music in the Chula Vista School District in 2016, part of a renewed effort by the district to improve arts education after years of not funding arts programs.
“When I first started the program at Finney and at Juarez Lincoln, we had nothing for about six months,” she said. “They hired me, but they didn’t have budget for curriculum or instruments, so it was all body-percussion-based and lots of singing and dancing — but it’s a lot easier to teach when you have materials.”
So Pridmore did what a lot of teachers must do now and began searching for grants to fund the music program. And she has been very effective in raising money so far.
“We have the VH1 Save the Music grant and that gave us our orchestral instruments, it gave us 40 music stands and some method books,” she said.
She has also raised around $10,000 from Donors Choose grants — a crowd-funding site for educators. She used the funds to purchase new xylophones, drums, method books and 31 ukuleles.
“My kids are so proud of their instruments. They want to take good care of them,” she said. “I have a club that meets twice a week after school to clean and tune all the instruments — the Backstage Bulldogs. They have contests with each other to see who can tune the most instruments, so they keep tally on the white board.”
Although Pridmore said she has formally taught band, orchestra and choir students, she is modest about her own ability to play the instruments she teaches.
“’Play’ is a strong word, I’m one step ahead of the kids in a lot of instruments,” she said. “I play the beginnings of everything — you have to if you’re a music teacher.”
Her students usually put on two performances a year, singing songs and performing on the orchestra instruments they get to practice on during music class. She also tries to involve her students’ parents when she can.
“Something that I’m really proud of that we’ve done is we did a community night [this past] spring,” she said. “Instead of doing formal performances on stage, we invited the families in to play together with their kids. I taught the kids and parents some songs and dances together in the music room. It was really neat to see all our families come in and just play and dance with each other and just get a taste of how interactive it was in music — see how much more it is than just do this, this, this and this, but make your own thing.”
In addition to teaching her students and involving parents in music education, Pridmore also provides professional development classes in the Orff Schulwerk process for fellow San Diego County music educators. The Orff Schulwerk process is a method of teaching music using singing, dance and instruments like xylophone and glockenspiel. Pridmore is currently vice president of the San Diego chapter of the American Orff Schulwerk Association and will be taking over as president next year.
And the Grammy goes to …
In September, Pridmore will know if she will be selected as one of 15 Grammy semifinalists. Semifinalists receive a $500 honorarium with matching school grants. There will also be 10 finalists chosen who will receive a $1,000 honorarium and matching grant for their respective schools. The winner will be chosen from the 10 finalists and flown to Los Angeles to attend the 62nd annual Grammy Awards and participate in a range of Grammy Week events.
Pridmore is realistic about her chances of winning — she’s hopeful, but not overconfident. Mostly, she said, she is excited that the Grammys started the award program to raise awareness about music education in schools.
“My hope is that it just gets our story out there and helps our kids get more support, because they deserve a quality arts education — it’s important,” she said. “I don’t think it should just be this optional thing.”
— Reach editor Jeff Clemetson at firstname.lastname@example.org.