Grammy Music Educator of the Year Annie Ray Talks Grammys, Grants & Advocacy

Grammy Music Educator of the Year Annie Ray Talks Grammys, Grants & Advocacy
May 13, 2024

2022-23 Wolf Trap Grantee Discusses Her Effort to Elevate the Role of Music Education and Inspire the Next Generation of Teachers

Annandale High School’s Annie Ray has had a big year. In a little over 12 months, she received a grant from Wolf Trap’s Grants for Performing Arts Teachers for her dream project–a collaboration with DC-based artist and producer Christylez Bacon. She performed with her students on stage at The Barns at Wolf Trap, was honored at the Grammys as Music Educator of the Year, and met one of her idols, singer/songwriter Jacob Collier (along with Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, and SZA).

Amongst these achievements, Ray says that one of the most valuable gifts she received this year was the advice imparted to her by several past award winners. They encouraged her to own the moment and say yes to every opportunity. Those words of encouragement inspired Ray to consider how she could leverage her new platform to benefit young people and performing arts programs both locally and nationwide.

“Much of my focus has been on advocating for the importance of music education in the community,” Ray adds. “This has been crucial at a time when so many schools are facing budget cuts, and performing arts programs are getting hit hard.”

Ray has seen firsthand the difference quality music education makes in the lives of students and their families. With a school whose student body represents more than 59 countries and is composed largely of students who speak a language other than English in their homes, Ray derives great satisfaction in seeing so many students from different backgrounds come together in her classroom to work toward a common goal.

“We say that music is the universal language. It’s not; it’s the act of making music that is universal,” says Ray. “With music, students have to be willing to learn new things, and not be afraid if, at first, they fail. They need to be willing to be brave and put themselves out there.”

Ray is also using this opportunity to issue a challenge to her colleagues.

“We’re facing a crisis point where there aren’t enough music educators who are coming in. A lot of these students don’t identify as musicians,” she says. “It’s up to us to tell them that they are. I encourage music educators to start purposely identifying students and having those conversations as early as their sophomore year because most of those students never considered music education as a viable career option.”

Annie Ray at The Barns for Wolf Trap’s 2023 High School Grants Day

In addition to working with her students, Ray has also developed programs that involve their families and created opportunities for Annandale’s music department to be more inclusive. One of those initiatives is the Crescendo Orchestra, a program inspired by United Sound and Giving Bach, which is an elective adaptive orchestra class for students of differing physical or cognitive abilities.

Ray also created the Fairfax County Parents Orchestra, a program that encourages parents to learn and play their child’s instruments. There are four levels of instruction –from caregivers who have never touched a musical instrument before up to advanced players who are revisiting their instrument from high school or have been with the Orchestra since 2019.

Programs like these reflect Ray’s desire to create connections for the community outside of the classroom, and while they were undoubtedly instrumental in Ray’s receiving her award, she credits the collective support and efforts of her school, her colleagues, her students, and their families, for the win.

“I looked at all of the [Music Educator of the Year] finalists and my fellow nominees and every one of them is deserving of this award. These incredible educators go so above and beyond every day,” Ray says. “To me, this award really belongs to our community. It belongs to Annandale. It belongs to my students. It belongs to my teammates and my mentors.”

Reflecting on her Grammys experience, Ray recalls a chance encounter with a celebrity that, for her, summed up the lasting effect teachers–specifically music educators–can have on the trajectory of a student’s life. At the ceremony, Ray was surprised to see among the attendees actress Meryl Streep, and could not miss the chance to meet her. In their conversation, Ray was pleased to hear of Streep’s own experience with music education, and the impact it had on her.

“A music educator changed my life,” Streep told her, “and it’s why I am where I am today.”

Ray keeps busy personally and professionally with many organizations and programs that aim to build skills and opportunities for young people. If you’d like to learn more, she suggests checking out the following resources:  Crescendo Orchestra at Annandale High School, United Sound, Midwest Clinic International Band and Orchestra Conference, StringRise, and Giving Bach.