On December 10, 2020, the Recording Academy and GRAMMY Museum announced the 10 finalists to be considered for the 2021 Music Educator Award. To be eligible for the award, these music educators must have made significant and lasting contributions to the field of music education while also demonstrating a commitment to the broader cause of maintaining music education in the school system.

Out of 1,989 nominations, 10 music educators from ten cities and across 8 states have been named finalists. These finalists should be celebrated as they each have worked diligently to teach, to advance music in America, and to make remarkable impacts on their students and communities. 

Each year, one recipient is selected from the ten finalists and recognized for their remarkable impact on students’ lives. This winner will receive a $10,000 honorarium and matching grant for their school’s music program. The nine additional finalists will receive a $1,000 honorarium and matching grants. Of these ten finalists, we are very proud that four of them are Sinfonians.

Congratulations to Brothers Donald Walter, Brian McMath, Dr. Jeffrey Murdock, and Chris Maunu! We wish them luck as the final decision is made. The Music Educator Award recipient will be announced during GRAMMY Week in January 2021.

Meet the Sinfonian Finalists

Donald Walter – Iota Epsilon Chapter (1991)

Brother Walter is the Director of Orchestras at Northwest Guilford High School and Northwest Guilford Middle School. Additionally, he is the Orchestra Section Chair of the North Carolina Music Educators Association. While at the NW Schools, Donald has doubled the enrollment in the middle school orchestra program and increased enrollment to more than 90 students in the high school program.

Brother Walter is a National Board Certified Teacher and holds Bachelor and Master of Music in Music Education degrees from UNC Greensboro. He has presented teaching clinics at local, state, national, and international music education conferences. He has published an article about deliberate practice and neurobiology in the Music Educators Journal. Throughout his career, Brother Walter has led groups to more than 43 “Superior” ratings at NC Western Region Music Performance Adjudications and has had many students selected to the county, district, regional, and all-state honor ensembles. He has led six groups in performance at the NC Music Educators In-Service Conference (2006, 2010, 2014, 2016, 2017, and 2019)

As an active clinician, Brother Walter has conducted the high school and middle school NC Western Region Repertory Orchestras, the NC Junior Eastern Region District Two Orchestra, and numerous all-county orchestras throughout North Carolina. Additionally, he is a frequent guest conductor of the UNC Greensboro Sinfonia Orchestra. In 2015, Brother Walter was named the Guilford County Schools Arts Educator of the Year and the NCMEA Orchestra Section Western Region Orchestra Director of the Year.

Donald was initiated by the Iota Epsilon Chapter at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 1991.

Brian McMath – Iota Epsilon Chapter (1993)

Brother McMath is in his twenty-fourth year as an educator and in his seventeenth year as the Director of Bands at Northwest Guilford High School in Greensboro, North Carolina. While at Northwest Guilford, his bands have received recognition for their growth, discipline, and individual member achievements. Members of the class bands (Concert Band, Symphonic Band, and Wind Ensemble) are consistently chosen for various All-County, All-District, and Honor Bands across the state. Brother McMath has inspired numerous students to pursue to become music educators.

Under Mr. McMath’s direction, the school’s Concert Band, Symphonic Band, and Wind Ensemble have consistently earned ratings of Excellent and Superior at Regional and State Festivals. The Wind Ensemble consistently performs grade five and grade six literature at the North Carolina Music Performance Assessment Festival, earning Superior Ratings.

Additionally, the Marching Viking Band (a volunteer organization) has competed in the Outback Bowl (twice – Grand Champion 2004) in Tampa, Florida, and the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Arizona. The Marching Viking Band has been invited to perform at the Liberty Bowl, the Orange Bowl, the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl, the Citrus Bowl, the National Parade in Washington, DC, the Holiday Parade in Waikiki, Hawaii, and at the London New Year’s Day Parade.

The inaugural Wind Symphony was selected to perform at the John F. Kennedy Performing Arts Center in Washington, DC, for the 2020 Sousa Festival.

Brian was initiated by the Iota Epsilon Chapter at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 1993.

Dr. Jeffrey Murdock – Eta Phi Chapter (2000)

Brother Murdock is internationally known as a conductor, clinician, and adjudicator. He currently serves as Associate Director of Choral Activities and Assistant Professor of Music at the University of Arkansas where he conducts the Inspirational Chorale, the Men’s Chorus, and teaches courses within the choral music education curriculum. He is a 2016 Connor Endowed Faculty Fellow in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences.

Dr. Murdock appears regularly in concert, recital, and stage performances, having previously conducted the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, the (Mississippi) Gulf Coast Symphony, and has also performed as a soloist with the Memphis Symphony, the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra, and the Southern Mississippi Opera.

As a music educator, he loves to invest his knowledge and experience in the next generation of young musicians through clinic opportunities with secondary choral programs, conducting honor choruses, and mentoring choral music educators. Recent highlights include performances in New York, Madrid, Barcelona, Rome, and Lisboa. In 2013, he made his Carnegie Hall debut conducting the Millington Chorale in a well-received concert of diverse repertoire. The evening concert featuring the ensemble was praised for its preparation and the ensemble’s maturity of sound.  

While Brother Murdock is an accomplished classical musician, he is also a skilled Gospel musician. He currently serves on the conducting staff of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. and has collaborated with Gospel recording artists, including Donnie McClurkin, Richard Smallwood, Mary Mary, Marvin Winans, Marvin Sapp, Lisa Knowles, and Kathy Taylor. 

Brother Murdock’s research interests include cultural hegemony in choral music education, social justice in music education, culturally responsive pedagogy in music education, and music in urban schools. He has presented at the National Research Conference for the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) as well as the World Conference of the International Society for Music Education (ISME) – Glasgow, U.K. Brother Murdock is also a frequent research presenter at local and regional conferences of the American Choral Directors’ Association (ACDA) where he serves on the national committee for diversity initiatives, and as chair of student activities for the state of Arkansas.

Brother Murdock holds both a Bachelor of Music Education and Master of Music in Conducting degrees from the University of Southern Mississippi and a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Music Education from the University of Memphis.

Jeffrey was initiated by the Eta Phi Chapter at the University of Southern Mississippi in 2000.

Chris Maunu – Theta Nu Chapter (2000)

Brother Maunu is a conductor, educator, composer, and professional singer based in the Denver-Metro area. A GRAMMY® nominated educator, he is the Director of Choral Activities at Arvada West High School. A passionate teacher, Mr. Maunu was named a top 10 Finalist for both the 2018 and 2020 GRAMMY® Music Educator Award. He was also a winner of the 2019 and 2020 CMA® National Music Teacher of Excellence Award. Since starting his career at Arvada West in 2006, the department has nearly tripled in size and has become one of the premier high school choir programs in the United States.

Choirs under Brother Maunu’s direction have performed at 12 national, regional, and state ACDA and CMEA conferences. His choirs were also winners of the prestigious American Prize in Choral Performance in 2018 and won the 2nd Place Prize in the Ernst Bacon Award for the Performance of American Music in 2019 (the only choir to place in this competition of ensembles of all types). The choir also was invited by audition to perform in the Champions Competition of the 2020 World Choir Games (the 9th American high School choir in history to receive this invitation).

Brother Maunu was named the Colorado Community Media “2019 Best of the Best” Teacher. He also received the Distinguished Alumni Award from Northern State University where he delivered the 2018 Commencement Address. Chris was a recipient of a Commendation from the 71st House of Representatives for his work as a music educator. He is also a proponent of sharing his students’ work. Solo performance videos of Maunu’s high school choirs have received significant attention in music circles, receiving well over a million hits on YouTube and other media and social media outlets.

Chris has enjoyed serving as a clinician for all-state and honor choirs in numerous states, including a recent appointment to the faculty of Guest Artists at Manhattan Concert Productions (MCP) in New York City. An active member of NAfME, CMEA, and ACDA, Chris served 6 years as the High School Chair for Colorado ACDA and is a past member of the CMEA Vocal Music Council. He is a contributing author to “A Choral Conductor’s Companion,” published by Meredith Music and distributed by Hal Leonard. He has had numerous articles published by the Choral Journal and other publications. He is in demand as a lecturer, having delivered over a dozen presentations at MEA and ACDA conferences, and other platforms.

Brother Maunu is the co-founder and artistic director of Colorado’s Anima Chamber Ensemble, an elite 16-voice professional ensemble. New to the Rocky Mountain choral scene, Anima has enjoyed plenty of time on the classical music airwaves and packs the halls with enthusiastic concert-goers of all ages. In addition, Chris has sung professionally with various ensembles. Such groups include St. Martin’s Chamber Choir, Evans Choir, and Colorado Bach Ensemble. He has also performed with the Santa Fe Desert Chorale, Central City Opera, and Opera Omaha.

Chris holds a Master of Music degree in Vocal Performance from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a Bachelor of Music Education from Northern State University in South Dakota.

Brian was initiated by the Theta Nu Chapter at Northern State University in 2000.