Darren McCoy has never been this close to making it to the Grammys, and he’s been closer than most. Two years ago he was among 25 semi-finalists for the Grammy Music Educator Award, and this year he’s made it into the top 10.
“I was very excited,” McCoy, a choir teacher at Oak Harbor High School, said about getting the news. “Of course anybody who get’s that award is going to feel humbled, they’re going to feel excited, they’re going to feel confident.”
As a finalist, he will receive $1,000 to go toward his program and $1,000 for himself. And he already knows what to do with the program’s money. Earlier this year he planned a class trip to Langley to rehearse and perform with the Saratoga Orchestra but didn’t exactly plan for how he’d pay for it.
“Fortuitously, I now have the funding,” he said with a laugh.
He believes giving students the opportunity to travel for performances is necessary for a successful music program. McCoy started his teaching career at Oak Harbor High School and is now in his 10th year. Throughout his career, he has made a point to take his choir students to a variety of venues to perform. These trips have included Olympic View Elementary School, his alma mater Willamette University in Oregon and Disney Land. He said students become more comfortable performing in a number of settings and it teaches them to manage their time.
In addition to traveling, he think OHHS’s use of technology also sets his choir program apart. The school has a new music theory program that’s taught online. He uses a website and apps for lessons and a document camera to teach sight reading.
He also identified his very active choir club as a potential factor in his award consideration. He said the students in the club lead rehearsals, plan events and help write scripts for the skits that they perform.
“If I was on some sort of Grammy committee, I would want the teachers to show that the students are taking ownership of their art and it’s not just micromanaged by a director,” he said.
McCoy’s positive experiences with his music teachers are what inspired him to follow in their footsteps. Although his voice is his main instrument, he also plays the piano and most percussion instruments. He said music didn’t come easily to him and it took a lot of practice to improve.
“There’s no magic pill for being a good musician. It takes time,” he said.
He said his teachers not only taught him how to play music, but used it as a tool to bring out the best in him and teach life lessons. As a teacher himself, he enjoys his unique position to get to know his students, many of whom he teaches for more than one year. He wants to become someone the students can talk to because that will ultimately help them in their singing.
“That connection that you build over two, or four years in some cases, is necessary to make them feel safe so they can actually do this kind of music that really touches on who they are as a person,” he said.
The winner of the Grammy Music Educator Award will be announced in January. If McCoy is selected, he will receive $10,000 and a trip for him and his wife to the show.
He said the award is an indication he’s “doing something right,” but he’s not letting it go to his head.
“You don’t want to feel too much pride in what you do, because that doesn’t go well,” he said. “You end up making stupid mistakes. As soon as you become prideful, then your program falls apart. No kid wants to sing for a teacher that’s just full of himself.”