Bedford M.S. band director nominated for Grammy Music Educator Award
Updated 6:05 pm, Friday, June 16, 2017
WESTPORT — As a fourth-grader, Lou Kitchner’s ability to play the trumpet was criticized and put down so forcefully by his teacher he chose to quit band at the end of the school year.
Kitchner had chosen to play the trumpet because all his friends were doing so, but he was so badly suited for the instrument that his parents relegated him to the white shack outside of their house to practice. His inability to play the instrument well was not for lack of practice, as his band teacher suggested, it just wasn’t the right instrument for him.
“My fourth-grade band director was extremely demeaning and degrading and I couldn’t feel worse about myself,” said Kitchner, thinking back to how he felt about four decades ago. That band teacher, he recalled, never took the time to find the right instrument for him.
After his family moved from Long Island to Susquehanna, Penn., Kitchner re-engaged in the band program in high school — that time with an instructor who taught him, instead of pillorying him. His new band director also made the wise choice not to re-pair him with the trumpet, instead suggesting he try the tuba.
Kitchner had finally found his instrument and he excelled, even becoming inspired to one day follow in his teacher’s footsteps.
Furthermore, the 50-year-old was named a quarter-finalist for the Grammys’ Music Educator Award last month.
Presented by the Recording Academy and the Grammy Museum, the award — open to musical educators from kindergarten through university level — recognizes teachers who have made a significant and lasting contribution in their field. Kitchner was one of 197 music teachers across the United States selected in May.
Ally Schwartz, a seventh-grade oboist in Kitchner’s band, and one of the students who nominated Kitchner, submitted a video in support of his application.
“Mr. K. turns his students into college-level musicians,” Schwartz said in the video. “You don’t need an advanced instrument in middle school — well, at least typically. But Mr. K. shapes us into such strong musicians, that these beginner instruments can’t handle our musicality.”
Kitchner’s students’ adore their band teacher — the exact opposite of how Kitchner felt about his first instructor. Still, Kitchner said, that malicious band teacher in elementary school influenced him, in part, to be such an effective, caring and well-regarded teacher when he got into that same position of power.
“He taught me everything not to be and, I always think of it as, these students are someone’s child,” he said.
Sometimes, actually, they’re even his own child. The single dad of Jacob, 16, and Caleb, 13 — both enrolled in Westport public schools — said he goes to work everyday reflecting on how he would want someone treating his children.
“Being a teacher is one of the best privileges and honors to have,” Kitchner said.
Educated at Mansfield University with a degree in music education, he went on to a joint master’s program at Ithaca College and The State University of New York at Binghamton to earn a degree in performance. He has served as the university wind ensemble director at SUNY Binghamton and is the founder of its pep band. Kitchner has performed internationally, including a tuba performance at the first international tuba symposium in Riva del Garda, Italy.
Currently in his ninth year at Bedford, Kitchner previously worked as the band director at Simsbury High School, the orchestra director at Avon High School and the Advanced Placement music theory teacher at both schools.
As a Grammys’ quarter-finalist, Kitchner had to write essays and submit videos of him teaching. He will find out in October if he made it into the semifinalist round.
For Kitchner, just being nominated by his students is an honor.
“Seeing students succeed — that’s my favorite part (of teaching) and feeling like they’re accomplishing something,” Kitchner said.