Hitting a High Note

Jared Cassedy ’04 named Grammy Foundation's music educator of the year

Thursday, February 5, 2015
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UNH alumnus Jared Cassedy (right) poses with country singer Hunter Hayes while in Los Angeles to accept the 2015 Music Educator of the Year award from the Grammy Foundation.

UNH alumnus Jared Cassedy (right) poses with country singer Hunter Hayes while in Los Angeles
to accept the 2015 Music Educator of the Year award from the Grammy Foundation.

Jared Cassedy '04 is a high school music teacher in Windham, N.H. But he doesn't see the 87 high-schoolers in his band as students. He sees them as fellow musicians.

"With the right guidance and support, these students take ownership in a way that really drives the program forward. So much so that I don't see them as high-school students, I see them as musicians, and we are in this ensemble together. We work together to make music."

That's part of the reason that Cassedy was chosen from 7,000 music educators nationwide as the 2015 recipient of the Grammy Music Educator Award, which recognizes a teacher's contribution in the classroom.

Cassedy is the director of the Windham High School Band and the director of the Windham schools' K-12 Fine Arts program. He started off in the school system teaching music at Windham Middle School in 2005, shortly after his UNH graduation.

A former student nominated him several months ago, and since then has been patiently waiting to hear news of his standing against music educators nationwide. And just a few weeks ago, he stepped out of a budget meeting at school to take what he thought was a conference call with some folks from the Grammy Foundation — just a formality for the latest round of finalists, he assumed.

But on the other end of the line was Neil Portnow, current president of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, and CEO of the Grammy Foundation. He congratulated Cassedy on being a finalist and was explaining what the winner would get to experience: a trip to Los Angeles, a seat at the Grammy Awards ceremony amid celebrities this Sunday, lots of fanfare. And then Portnow told Cassedy he better pack his bags and make plans to be in L.A. for a few days — he was, in fact, the award winner, chosen from a pool of 7,000 nominees nationwide.

"I was like, 'WHAT?!' I was on my knees, crying and laughing at the same time. It was so nice, I couldn't believe it; I was ecstatic. I've never had so many emotions running through my body at the same time," Cassedy said this week from L.A.

He grew up in a musical family with three siblings and with parents who wanted all of their children to have a well-rounded education. "We played sports, we played instruments, we were in book clubs, everything," he says.

He joined his high school band at Salem (N.H.) High, and when he came to UNH in the fall of 2000, he knew he had found a place where his passion for music would be supported. While here, he was a member of the UNH Wind Symphony, a member of several quintets and was the drum major in the Wildcat Marching Band for three years.

It was here at UNH, Cassedy says, that his passion for music evolved into something more.

"What I loved about the faculty and program at UNH was that it really opened my eyes. It was a paradigm shift from my own personal love of performing, and learning that there was more I could do. I could have a significant impact on students and people around me," he says, adding that he loved his music education classes, especially those that focused on elementary methods, school culture as well as educational structure and change.

What he learned at UNH, he says, is that "music can be a vehicle for having an impact that so far surpasses the actual production of notes with an instrument."

It's an idea he's brought with him into the classroom and performance spaces in Windham. Music education, he says, truly matters so much more than just the music.

"It's not just about performance, ... we're teaching them life skills  how to be creative, how to be collaborative," he says. "If you look at this world we live in, whether or not you have a career in the humanities or in science, or really in anything, you have to be creative. Arts and music teach young people how to be collaborative, tolerant, open-minded ... those are the things that are needed to drive our society today."

Collaboration is a common theme in the Windham music classrooms — in fact, it's how the school music program started. The high school opened in 2009 (Windham high-schoolers previously attended Salem High), and Cassedy was drafted from Windham Middle School to lead the music program at Windham High.

"When we started we only opened for freshmen and sophomore classes, and I sat down with the kids and developed the core values of the program and talked about where we wanted to go together," says Cassedy. "Everybody in that program, it's a respectful relationship on both ends. My philosophy is, if you give students responsibility, give them respect, set expectations appropriately high, they will reach those expectations. The results you are going to get are going to be incredible on both sides."

As he told CBS reporter Anthony Mason in a recent CBS This Morning segment: "It's a wonderful recognition. I see it more as a recognition of the students," Cassedy said. "Without the students coming back every single day, giving it 110 percent. Their lips are falling off, and they're exhausted and they're studying for midterm exams and they have a lot of pressure on them but they're the ones. I could be up there waving my arms around, but they're the ones making the music."

Want to Watch?
Jared Cassedy '04 will officially receive his Grammy Music Educator of the Year award on Saturday, but the award is scheduled to be announced during Sunday's main event during the televised Grammy awards presentation (cross your fingers that acceptance speeches don't run long). The show airs Sunday, Feb. 8, on CBS, beginning at 8 p.m.

Get to Know Jared Cassedy
Jared Cassedy loves playing challenging classical music like Rachmaninoff and Shostakovich, but enjoys listening to country stars like Tim McGraw, Luke Bryan and Taylor Swift. Want to learn more about him? Check out this video, produced by the Windham High School Video Productions Department, called "Life Lessons." And be sure to check out CBS News' segment on Cassedy, including interviews with some of his student-musicians.